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Author Julie Otsuka Shares History With Wilton

WILTON, Conn. – Author Julie Otsuka spent much of the time between her first and second novel following and not following the rules of writing, she explained Sunday evening to the nearly 250 people who filled the Wilton Library.

In writing her second novel “The Buddha in the Attic,” she broke writing rule No. 7, “Write what you know.” The novel is about Japanese picture brides who came to America in the 1920s to marry immigrated Japanese men, something neither she nor the women in her family had any real experience with.

The book idea, she said, came from conversations with people who attended readings of her first novel, saying that she was constantly amazed at how much people were willing to open up about in short conversations. And much of the talk, a part of the community book program, Wilton Reads, was about her writing habits and how “The Buddha in the Attic” came to be.

"I'm very much a creature of habit," Otsuka said.  She said she goes to the same coffee shop, gym and stores around her Upper West Side apartment every day – which is why, writing her second novel was so difficult and took nine years to complete. Her own life experiences were so very different from the women she wanted to write about.

“My first book is, in a sense, a sequel to my second,” she said, explaining that “When the Emperor was Divine” was about time in the internment camps during World War II.

Ridgefield native and Brooklyn resident Megan Roche hadn’t read either of Otsuka’s books before coming with her mother and sister to the reading.

“I decided to go into this fresh,” Roche said. “Usually I’m fearful of listening to somebody talk about their book because I like setting my own tone when I read a book, but I feel like she set a wonderful tone so I’m excited to read them.”

Wilton resident Miwako Ogasawara said she had waited for Otsuka’s second novel with bated breath. Her first experience with it was finding that the first person plural narration was difficult to get into at first, but she ultimately really enjoyed it.

“I feel like I have a certain obligation to know the history of Japanese-Americans of the time better,” Ogasawara said. And in many ways she said the book and the reading from Otsuka helped her goal.

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