Otsuka’s New Novel Nominated for National Book Award


Julie Otsuka

NEW YORK — Julie Otsuka’s long-awaited second novel, “The Buddha in the Attic” (Alfred A. Knopf), has been nominated for the National Book Award.

The 2011 nominees were announced Wednesday by the National Book Foundation.

Otsuka is nominated in the fiction category along with “The Sojourn” by Andrew Krivak, “The Tiger’s Wife” by Téa Obreht, “Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories” by Edith Pearlman, and “Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward.

The other categories are nonfiction, poetry, and young people’s literature. Judges looked through a total of 1,223 books. Nonfiction nominees include “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” by Manning Marable, who died just before his book was published.

The winners will be announced at a gala in New York on Nov. 16, hosted by actor and author John Lithgow. Each will receive $10,000.

“The Buddha in the Attic” tells the story of a group of young women brought over from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides” nearly a century ago. They married men whom they had never met.

In eight incantatory sections, the novel traces their extraordinary lives, from their arduous journey by boat, where they exchange photographs of their husbands, imagining uncertain futures in an unknown land; to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; to their backbreaking work picking fruit in the fields and scrubbing the floors of white women; to their struggles to master a new language and a new culture; to their experiences in childbirth, and then as mothers, raising children who will ultimately reject their heritage and their history; to the deracinating arrival of war.

In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly said, “Otsuka’s latest novel paints a delicate, heartbreaking portrait of these women … Each section is beautifully rendered, a delicate amalgam of contrasting and complementary experiences … By the time readers realize that the story is headed toward the internment of the Japanese, they are hopelessly engaged and will finish this exceptional book profoundly moved.”

The book reached No. 9 on the L.A. Times bestseller list.

Otsuka was born and raised in California. After studying art as an undergraduate at Yale University, she pursued a career as a painter for several years before turning to fiction writing at age 30. She received her MFA from Columbia. She is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Asian American Literary Award, and the American Library Association Alex Award.

Her first novel, “When the Emperor Was Divine” (Knopf, 2002), is about the internment of a Japanese American family during World War II. It was a New York Times Notable Book, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year, and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers finalist.

The book is based on Otsuka’s own family history: her grandfather was arrested by the FBI as a suspected spy for Japan the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, and her mother, uncle and grandmother spent three years in an internment camp in Topaz, Utah.

“When the Emperor Was Divine” has been translated into six languages and sold more than 250,000 copies. The New York Times called it “a resonant and beautifully nuanced achievement” and USA Today described it as “a gem of a book and one of the most vivid history lessons you’ll ever learn.” It has been assigned to all incoming freshmen at more than 35 colleges and universities and is a regular “Community Reads” selection across the U.S.

Otsuka’s fiction has been published in Granta and Harper’s and read aloud on PRI’s “Selected Shorts” and BBC Radio 4’s “Book at Bedtime.” She lives in New York City, where she writes every afternoon in her neighborhood café.


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