A collection of interconnected narratives, Julie Otsuka’s richly imagined novel, The Buddha in the Attic, focuses on a group of Japanese women who come to California after World War I as “picture brides” to marry men they’ve never met. Otsuka employs a first-person plural voice to tell their story, a device that emphasizes the characters’ shared fate. Facing up to the difficulties of being wives and the confusion of unfamiliar customs (wearing shoes while indoors, for example), they discover that their new lives contain unexpected challenges. But when World War II hits, unleashing widespread suspicion of Japanese Americans, Otsuka’s heroines find themselves in the midst of a nightmare. A finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, this remarkable novel is a skillful portrayal of the immigrant experience that reinforces Otsuka’s reputation as a writer to watch.
LEGACIES OF 9/11
The Submission, Amy Waldman’s accomplished debut, examines the ways in which America was changed by the tragedy of 9/11. The novel’s polarizing event is an anonymous design contest for a memorial at Ground Zero. When the competition is won by Muslim architect Mohammad Khan, the controversial choice causes an uproar. Waldman, a former New Delhi bureau chief for The New York Times, creates a fascinating cast of players to tell an unforgettable story. Rich widow Claire Burwell, a judge in the contest, initially backs Khan but later has misgivings. Hot-tempered Sean Gallagher, who lost a brother on 9/11, is against the memorial, while contest chairman Paul Rubin is worried about the political side of the crisis. Waldman’s depictions are convincing, and she writes with emotion and heart—but without lapsing into sentimentality. This is a shrewd and timely novel that’s sure to hit home with readers.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s touching debut tells the story of 18-year-old Victoria Jones, an orphan living on the streets of San Francisco. Brought up in foster care, Victoria finds it hard to trust people and shies away from relationships. She finds solace in an unexpected source: flowers. Diffenbaugh deftly weaves in scenes of Victoria’s childhood, when she lived with a woman named Elizabeth who taught her all about plants. That knowledge proves invaluable when Victoria lands a job at a florist, where she demonstrates a gift for creating bouquets. Her arrangements seem to have special properties, triggering change for the better in the lives of those who receive them. When change affects her own life—in the form of a kind young man from her past—Victoria finds herself re-evaluating her solitary existence. Diffenbaugh’s sensitively written tale shows what life is like for the lonely while affirming that connection and growth are always possible.