by: Julie Otsuka
published by: Knopf
publish date: August 23, 2011
From the author of the contemporary classic When the Emperor Was Divine, a tour de force about a group of women brought from Japan to San Francisco in the early 1900s as mail-order brides.
In six unforgettable, incantatory sections, the novel traces their new lives as “picture brides”: the arduous voyage by boat, where the girls trade photos of their husbands and imagine uncertain futures in an unknown land . . . their arrival in San Francisco and the tremulous first nights with their new husbands . . . backbreaking toil as migrant workers in the fields and in the homes of white women . . . the struggle to learn a new language and culture . . . giving birth and raising children who come to reject their heritage . . . and, finally, the arrival of war, and the agonizing prospect of their internment.
I had kept skipping over this book because it didn't particularly appeal to me. Then it was a nominee for the National Book Award, so I figured it must be really good. Since then it's also appeared on quite a few best of 2011 lists, including the New York Times, Library Journal, and Barnes and Noble.
I will say I thought it was interesting and illuminating and I'm glad I experienced it, but I didn't particularly enjoy it. It's written in an unusual style. It's told in the first person plural, so most of the sentences start with "we did" or "some of us did" or "one of us" etc. This led to a very repetitive cadence to the book which got a little boring at times. It's a really short book, so it's not like one has to suffer with it for long.
The subject matter was worth the read. I was familiar with the idea of the internment camps, but not the lead up. I never knew too much about mail order brides either, so learning about them and their integration into American society was fascinating.