If You Have An Hour…

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I really enjoy listening to NPR’s weekly show, On the Media.  It’s as close as I get to “appointment radio,” and if my Saturday routine is disrupted, I listen to it later in the week. Today was that perfect combination – one of my favorite shows focusing on my very favorite topic – books and the publishing industry. If you want to catch up on Amazon’s mission to take over the world, the Pulitzer committee’s declining to select a winner, and the dramatic ways reading and publishing are changing, here’s the link to the show:


Speaking of the Pulitzer…while this controversy was being debated by book lovers, I’ve been reading The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka. It did not surprise me at all to read that Publishers Weekly named Otsuka’s elegant novel as one of their “surrogate winners.”   Here are excerpts from some of the reviews of Otsuka’s follow-up to When the Emperor Was Divine:

 “A delicate, heartbreaking portrait . . . beautifully rendered . . . Otsuka’s prose is precise and rich with imagery. Readers will be . . . hopelessly engaged and will finish this exceptional book profoundly moved.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An incantatory and haunting group portrait . . . Drawing on extensive research and profoundly identifying with her characters, Otsuka crafts an intricately detailed folding screen depicting nearly five decades of change as the women painstakingly build meaningful lives, only to lose everything after Pearl Harbor. This lyrically distilled and caustically ironic story of exile, effort, and hate is entrancing, appalling, and heartbreakingly beautiful.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“Poetic . . . Otsuka combines the tragic power of a Greek chorus with the intimacy of a confession. She conjures up the lost voices of a generation of Japanese American women without losing sight of the distinct experience of each. . . . An understated masterpiece . . . The distillation of a national tragedy that unfolds with great emotional power . . . The Buddha in the Attic seems destined to endure. —Jane Ciabattari, San Francisco Chronicle
“Otsuka’s incantatory style pulls her prose close to poetry.” —Alida Becker, The New York Times Book Review

I loved the book and totally understand why it is considered worthy of the Pulitzer, but reading it did remind me how much I depend on character – maybe too much. Because Ostuka’s novel is told from the point of view of a group of women, there is not one character with whom to connect. I was touched by the women’s stories, but missed having someone to “be with.” As the reviews point out, Otsuka’s sentences are like precious gems. I read When the Emporer Was Divine a few years ago, but after reading this new one, I plan to download them both on my Nook so I can read her books like poetry.


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