Two Short Reviews: The Buddha in the Attic and Journey into the Past

The Buddha in the Attic – Julie Otsuka

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book, but one of my favorite slices of literature recently has been books written by Japanese-American women, so I picked it up on a whim. The result was somewhat surprising, but not disappointing.

The Buddha in the Attic is a group biography of Japanese picture brides—women who left their families in Japan and crossed the Pacific Ocean to marry men in California who they had never met in the early 20th century. In succession the book follows these women from their voyage to the meeting, to their relationships, children, lives, and departure to the internment camps in 1942.

Some of the women receive names, but rarely individual personalities. Instead, this is a true group biography that captures diversity within their collective experience. As a group they were transplanted to a new world, married men who were not like the pictures they saw, and were rejected by their new country. Individually, they had affairs, dreams, and heartbreaks, leaving mementos behind.

The result is a poignant slice of lives, with a highly specific spotlight on a fundamentally American story of acceptance and rejection.

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Journey into the Past – Stefan Zweig

Ludwig is an ambitious young German scientist taken into his employer’s home as a secretary and confidant. There he falls in love with his employer’s wife, a feeling she reciprocates. They delay their feelings, first out of a sense of propriety and then because he departs for a two year stint in Mexico, only to be trapped there by the outbreak of World War One. When their communication falters, Ludwig marries and has children in Mexico, but when he is able to return to Germany after the war he attempts to recapture that moment he lost from his youth.

On the one hand, I was put off by the triteness of the sexual cliches at the heart of Journey in the Past, both in the arc where a young man falls in love with the wife of an employer or other authority figure and in the arc where the slightly older man ignores any loyalty to his family in order to complete the conquest of a woman he thought was his due from an early age in his life. The first is an issue I have had with Zweig before, notably in Confusion, while the latter is a toxic fallacy regarding the relationship between men and women.

The problem is on the other hand. Zweig does not wholly exonerate Ludwig’s behavior even while couching it in terms that seem designed to make them understandable. Both characters have changed and the period of young love has left them both behind, and this, ultimately, is the message.

I appreciate Zweig’s observations on a number of fronts, some of which hit close to home. For instance:

Outwardly his title of Doctor, cheap but impenetrable armour, made up for his low social status, and at the office his fine achievements disguised the still sore and festering wounds of his youth, when he had felt ashamed of his poverty and of taking charity. So no, he was not going to sell the handful of freedom he now had, his jealously guarded privacy, not for any sum of money.

I just wish that Zweig’s plots offered a less problematic vehicle to explore these issues.

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I am now reading Elif Shafak’s The Architect’s Apprentice.

Summer Academic Reading Plans

One thing I’ve noticed in working on my primary research project, first as a dissertation and now as a book, is that I’ve gotten away from reading things that are not directly related to that research. As such, I am setting a summer reading goal of one article or book chapter on on the history of the Mediterranean (non-research category), theory or methodology, or pedagogy per weekday. By my count this is about seventy articles. So far the list (see below), consists of twenty five articles—a good start, but too short.

The problem is that I don’t know what I don’t know or, more specifically, I don’t necessarily know what I should be reading. The current iteration of this list is developed from perusing recent journal tables of contents as well as some suggestions crowd-sourced from Twitter, but I could still use more.

So, please, if you have a favorite article or book chapter** that fits the parameters listed above and published in the last fifteen years, I want to hear about it. Tell me what I should be reading!

**I am also open to book suggestions in the same fields and fiction, but already have a long backlog of both.

The List

  • S. Fachard, “A decade of research on Greek fortifications,” AR 62 (2015–2016), 77–88
  • R. Stoneman, “How Many Miles to Babylon?,” G&R 62 (2015), 60–74
  • D.M. Pritchard “Public Finance and War in Ancient Greece,” G&R 62 (2015), 48–59
  • M.J. Taylor, “Sacred Plunder and the Seleucid Near East,” G&R 61 (2014), 222–41
  • D.M. Pritchard, “The Position of Attic Women in Democratic Athens,” G&R 61 (2014) 174–93
  • D.M. Pritchard, “The Archers of Classical Athens,” G&R 65 (2018), 86–102
  • L.M. Yarrow, “How to Read a Diodoros Fragment,” in Diodoros of Sicily, edd. L.I. Hau, A. Meeus, and B. Sheridan (Leuven: 2018), 247–74
  • S.E. Kidd, “How to Gamble in Greek” JHS 137 (2017), 119–34
  • Ali Akhtar, “Enterprising Sultans and the Doge of Venice,” in Arabic Humanities, Islamic Thought, edd. S. Toorawa and J. Lowry (2017), 361–74
  • C. Belsey, Criticism: Ideas in Profile (Profile Books: 2016)
  • M.E. Irwin, “Venturing where Vine and Olive don’t grow.” SyllClass 14 (2003), 83–99
  • D. Tober, “Greek Local Historiography and Its Audiences,” CQ2 67 (2017), 460–84
  • A.W. Collins, “The Persian Royal Tent and Ceremonial and Alexander the Great,” CQ2 67 (2017), 71–6
  • R. Konijnendijk, “Mardonius’ Senseless Greeks,” CQ2 66 (2016), 1–12
  • A. Livarda, “Archaeobotany in Greece,” AR 60 (2013–2014), 106–16
  • M. Yue, “Naming the Greeks in the Archaic Period,” JAC 31 (2016), 45–84
  • S.C. Murray, “Lights and Darks: Data, Labeling, and Language in the History of Scholarship on Early Greece,” Hesperia 87 (2018), 17–54
  • R. Sobak, “Sokrates among the Shoemakers,” Hesperia 84 (2015), 669–712
  • L. Khatchadourian, “The Satrapal Condition,” in Imperial Matter (Los Angeles and Berkeley: 2016), 1–24
  • S.E. Psoma, “Athenian Owls and the royal Macedonian monopoly on Timber,” MHR 30 (2015), 1–18
  • J. Giebfried, “The Mongol Invasions and the Aegean World (1241–61),” MHR 28 (2013), 129–39
  • C. Rowan, “Coinage as commodity and bullion in the Western Mediterranean,” MHR 28 (2013), 105–27
  • J. Haubold, “The Achaemenid Empire and the Sea,” MHR 27 (2012), 5–24
  • K.L. Gaca “Reinterpreting the Homeric Simile of Iliad 16.7–11: The Girl and Her Mother in Ancient Greek Warfare,” AJPh 129 (2008), 145–71
  • S. Greenblatt, “Theatrical Mobility”, in Cultural Mobility, ed. S. Greenblatt (Cambridge: 2009), 75–95