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The Buddha in the Attic at the Foundry

July 4, 2014 by Reader's Connection


The woman working at Foundry Provisions was sweet about coming outside and taking my picture.

Oh, no! It’s another picture of me, grinning outside a book discussion spot.

This won’t go on all summer, I promise. You won’t have to look at me knocking back a brew in front of Sun King or New Day Craft, when those brewery book discussions roll around in August.

On Monday, July 14th, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., there will be a discussion of Julie Otsuka’s novel The Buddha in the Attic, followed by a workshop led by the Indiana Writers Center.

This will happen at Foundry Provisions (236 E. 16th Street, that’s 16th & Alabama).

The Buddha in the Attic

I love the way The Buddha in the Attic is narrated. Early in the twentieth century, a group of young Japanese women sail over to San Francisco. They (or their parents) have agreed to arranged marriages with men who have sent pictures and letters and money.

The novel’s main character is the whole group. There must be other novels like this, but they don’t come to mind. Individuals are named, fragments of individual stories told, but–at least as far as I’ve read–we are hearing a sort of swarm-voice. This sounds as though it might get in the way of an emotional connection with any of the women, but the story works in its own way.

table_quarterSome of us on the boat were from Kyoto, and were delicate and fair, and had lived our entire lives in darkened rooms at the back of the house. Some of us were from Nara, and prayed to our ancestors three times a day, and swore we could still hear the temple bells ringing. Some of us were farmers’ daughters from Yamaguchi with thick wrists and broad shoulders who had never gone to bed after nine. Some of us were from a small mountain hamlet in Yamanashi and had only recently seen our first train. Some of us were from Tokyo, and had seen everything, and spoke beautiful Japanese, and did not mix much with any of the others. Many more of us were from Kagoshima and spoke in a thick southern dialect that those of us from Tokyo pretended we could not understand. Some of us were from Hokkaido, where it was snowy and cold, and would dream of that white landscape for years. Some of us were from Hiroshima, which would later explode, and were lucky to be on the boat at all though of course we did not then know it.


Otsuka’s canny use of the we, when the we is describing our first sexual experiences with our new husbands, pulls the reader’s attention here and then there and then here, rather than following one romantic or titillating line.

I know from the reviews that the story moves forward through internment during World War II, and I’m reading with dread and anticipation. The claims on the dust jacket about the poetry of this book are not empty boasts.

Yikes! What is that horse doing outside Foundry Provisions? Has the blogger found some twisted way to include this post in his celebration of the Year of the Horse?

Their plows weighed more than we did, and were difficult to use, and their horses were twice the size of our horses back home in Japan. We could not harness them without climbing up onto orange crates, or standing on stools, and the first time we shouted out to them to move they just stood there snorting and pawing at the ground. Were they deaf? Were they dumb? Or were they just being stubborn? “These are American horses,” our husbands explained. “They don’t understand Japanese.” And so we learned our first words of horse English. “Giddyap” was what you said to make the horse go forward, and “Back” was what you said to make it back up. “Easy” was what you said to make it slow down, and “Whoa” was what you said to make it stop. And after fifty years in America these would be the only words of English some of us could still remember by heart.

Hope to see you at Foundry Provisions on the 14th, or at some other events in the Adult Summer Reading Program.

Happy Independence Day to all, especially to those whose ancestors didn’t experience a whole lot of independence in our country.


It’s not too late: Turn left at the Caspian Sea, then go to Calvin Fletcher’s.

July 2, 2014 by Reader's Connection

On Wednesday, July 9th at 4:00 p.m., there will be a discussion of Anthony Marra’s novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena at Calvin Fletcher’s Coffee Company.

If you last visited Calvin’s 3 or 4 years ago, you need to be told: THE BUILDING PICTURED BELOW IS NO LONGER THE RIGHT ONE.
calvin7This used to be Calvin’s, but is now a South of Chicago Pizza and Beef. It’s probably a wonderful place, but no book discussion.

In April 2012, Calvin moved to more spacious quarters a block down the street, at 647 Virginia Avenue. Be looking for a window that looks like the one below, minus the greybeard specter.


The specter is not the ghost of Calvin Fletcher. It is I, your blogger, smiling because I’m jazzed up on decaf and a chocolate croissant, but also because the fellow whom I ambushed to take my picture has misunderstood what I’ve said about the book discussion. He thinks I wrote the novel. Oh, buddy, in my dreams.


Image by Kbh3rd, Wikimedia Commons

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena  is set in Chechnya, where two wars occur in the course of the novel, and where the eventual “peace” doesn’t deserve the name.

Sonja is a doctor who has left “a decent life in London” and returned to Chechnya in search of her younger sister Natasha. Natasha shows up and works for a while at Sonja’s nearly unstaffed hospital; but then she disappears again. Despite the fact that the sisters never got along, Sonja is possessed by the desire to know where Natasha has gone. “What had happened to her sister? When she died, this one need, so near to eternal it could be her soul, would survive her.”

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Sonja’s life is further complicated by Akhmed, a stranger who shows up with a little girl called Havaa, whose father has been taken away by Russian soldiers. Akhmed claims that Havaa is also wanted by “the Feds,” and insists that Sonja should take the girl in.

The novel jumps around in time and involves a guns-and-heroin smuggler, an informer for the Feds, the author of an unpublishable history of Chechnya, and characters who linger with me even though they inhabit only a couple of pages. The book was an incredibly fast read for me, and that’s why I’m saying It’s not too late.

welcome_signA Constellation of Vital Phenomena  is also available as a downloadable e-book, but when I looked, yesterday, there were 15 requests and only 5 e-copies. Both copies of the downloadable audiobook version were checked out, and there was a request. So (word to the wise, here) your best bet for reading the book before July 9th is an old-fashioned paper copy.

And don’t forget: Other events around town are coming up in our Adult Summer Reading Program.


Tralisa McNeal to Visit East 38th Street

June 30, 2014 by Reader's Connection

Love Me Sane


Local author Tralisa McNeal will appear at the East 38th Street Library on Monday, July 14th at 6:00 p.m.

She will be discussing her 2010 novel Love Me Sane, a work of Christian fiction which touches on the themes of tragedy, loss, faith, redemption and valor in hard times.


“In the Nursing Home” by Jane Kenyon

June 27, 2014 by Reader's Connection

Collected Poems


“In the Nursing Home” from Jane Kenyon’s Collected Poems (Graywolf, ©2005) appears by permission of Graywolf Press.








In the Nursing Home

She is like a horse grazing
a hill pasture that someone makes
smaller by coming every night
to pull the fences in and in.

She has stopped running wide loops,
stopped even the tight circles.
She drops her head to feed; grass
is dust, and the creekbed’s dry.

Master, come with your light
halter. Come and bring her in.


Click for our findings during this Year of the Horse.


(1) Are you an author who would like to register for the Indy Author Fair?

June 25, 2014 by Reader's Connection

Or (2) are you a reader or author who would like to buy a ticket to the Indiana Authors Award Dinner?

Or (3) did you nominate an author for that award?

(1) If you want a space at the Author Fair on Saturday, October 25th, click on this first picture to open the registration form for the fair.



(2) If you would like to buy a ticket to the Indiana Authors Awards Dinner, which takes place that evening, click on the Award icon.



(3) If you nominated someone for the award, THANK YOU! The National Author and Regional Author winners and three Emerging Author finalists will be announced in mid-July.