When the Emperor Was Divine

When the Emperor Was Divine

A Novel

Book - 2003
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The debut novel from the PEN/Faulkner Award Winning Author of The Buddha in the Attic

On a sunny day in Berkeley, California, in 1942, a woman sees a sign in a post office window, returns to her home, and matter-of-factly begins to pack her family's possessions. Like thousands of other Japanese Americans they have been reclassified, virtually overnight, as enemy aliens and are about to be uprooted from their home and sent to a dusty internment camp in the Utah desert.

In this lean and devastatingly evocative first novel, Julie Otsuka tells their story from five flawlessly realized points of view and conveys the exact emotional texture of their experience: the thin-walled barracks and barbed-wire fences, the omnipresent fear and loneliness, the unheralded feats of heroism. When the Emperor Was Divine is a work of enormous power that makes a shameful episode of our history as immediate as today's headlines.
Publisher: New York : Anchor Books, 2003, c2002.
Edition: First Anchor Books edition
ISBN: 9780385721813
Branch Call Number: OTSUKA J
Characteristics: 144 pages ; 20 cm.


From the critics

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Sep 11, 2016

I have read this book twice, and admired it's honest approach to the plight of so many. Written from the intimate perspective of one family's experience, it covers much ground and shares the pain and difficulty experienced by so many Japanese Americans. It made me think very hard about how I treat Muslim people in my home town in these times of mistrust and conflict. It's worth reading a bit of relevant WWII history after tackling this novel.

Sep 10, 2015

Because of the lack of names, I wasn't always clear on whose point of view I was getting. But that didn't matter, as the family were both universal and fragmented by their wartime experiences. Their story is both a quick read and very deep. History of the period is important. So is this kind of story, which can get so deep into the hearts and minds of what the internment did to the people who experienced it. The father's story was especially tragic, as we didn't experience it with him, but "only" the comparison of how he had appeared to his children before and after the war.

FW_librarian Jun 19, 2015

Each short chapter is the viewpoint of a family member as they are forced from their comfortable home in California (with only a suitcase), packed into decrepit train cars with no ventilation, no food or water, and sent to a desert in Utah to live in wooden shacks. This novel is written with a tone that doesn't question the what and why of Executive Order 9066, but movingly shows the human tragic consequences as a result of government fear without accountability.

PimaLib_StephanieM May 18, 2015

I agree with reviewers who found that the treatment of the topic of internment was not terribly deep. This did not bother me, though, as I found the strength of the book to be in the portrait it created of the emotional life of people who suffered this injustice. I can turn to a non-fiction book on this title if I want greater historical detail. This book, however, gives me some idea of what it felt like to be marginalized both during and after the war.

VV3 Feb 23, 2015

Told in the third person, Otsuka manages to create a powerful story about a Japanese-American family who are sent to an internment camp during WW2. While almost impersonal, the story is still lyrical and moving.

Sep 24, 2014

I'd recommend Farewell to Manzanar for a deeper story of the lives of American Japanese on the home front in WWII and after. This book is cleverly written to appeal to people who know little about the subject. I found it boringly superficial after the first two chapters, as well as predictable, repetitive, and contrived.

Aug 28, 2014

Another view of detainment, how it came about for this family, the journey, living conditions & surprisingly to me, the return to their home when so many had no home to return to. Many parts are hard to accept, the deprivation, humiliation, outcast & shunning of Americans by their country & government, by such uncharitable neighbors. Why weren't Germans detained? Skin color I surmise. Great book.

booklady413 Jul 24, 2014

This was a beautifully crafted piece of literature. On each page you felt the emotions of the characters coming through on the page,and not naming the charters made the story even more universal. Unfortunately, this was a very sad era in our history, hopefully never to be repeated again. Great read.

Mar 04, 2014

A slim volume about the Japanese internment during WW II. Well done but not exceptional.

Feb 21, 2014

Best book I read in 2013. Better than her Buddha's in the Attic. Her style in this one perfectly tells the story - well crafted and well written.

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booklady413 Jul 24, 2014

"I ' m. the slant-eyed sniper in the trees.
I'm the saboteur in the shrubs.
I'm the stranger at the gate.
I'm the traitor in your own backyard.
I'm your houseboy.
I'm your cook.
I'm your gardener.
And I've been living here,quietly, beside you,just waiting for Tojo to flash me the high sign."

mrsgail5756 Feb 27, 2013

“Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark, and professionals built the Titanic.” -Anonymous


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