US writer Julie Otsuka wins Femina foreign novel prize
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American writer Julie Otsuka (left) won France’s Femina foreign novel prize on Monday for her second novel, The Buddha in the Attic. The Prix Femina went to French writer Patrick Deville (right) for his last novel, Plague and Cholera.
France’s all-female Femina jury awarded US writer Julie Otsuka the foreign novel prize Monday for "The Buddha in the Attic", a novel about the thousands of Japanese women sent to California in the early 1900s for arranged marriages.
The novel follows Fumiko, Hanako and Miyoshi with their kimonos, sandals and long black hair, first to the Japanese husbands awaiting them in the United States, then through their new lives.
"I hope the novel honoured this Monday will bring awareness to Europe about the history of these young Japanese women and the internment camps, which are practically unknown abroad and remain taboo in the United States," Otsuka said as she accepted the prize in Paris.
Set primarily before World War II, Otsuka’s three young brides leave for America, "the land of giants", each with a photo of their future husband and hope for a better life. But they arrive to face their wedding nights with complete strangers, followed by a life of labouring in the country or working in laundromats.
Otsuka, who studied art and tried a painting career before becoming a writer, portrays the women's nostalgia for their homeland, the looks from white Americans, and, years later, from their children, who have become American themselves.
When Japan declares war against the United States they suffer a second exile on US soil, and are sent to internment camps. For their part, the Americans watch their Japanese neighbours being forced away.
Patrick Deville was awarded the Prix Femina for his novel, Plague and Cholera, which fictionalises the life of Alexandre Yersin, the French-Swiss doctor who discovered the bacillus responsible for the bubonic plague.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
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