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When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

When the Emperor Was Divine (2002)

by Julie Otsuka

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  1. 10
    Obasan by Joy Kogawa (kiwidoc)
    kiwidoc: Explores Japanese internment in Canada

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Showing 1-5 of 77 (next | show all)
rabck from taxmanager; tiny book, sparse in prose, but packing an emotional wallop. In each chapter, the story of a Japanese American family's internment during WWII is revealed. Oh, how horrible and how broken were their lives during and after the forced relocation and separation. Powerful read. Reserving for the ABC bookbox. ( )
  nancynova | Mar 29, 2014 |
The internment of Japanese immigrants and Japanese-American citizens during World War II is a disturbing chapter in American History, that doesn't receive much attention. Thousands of ethnic Japanese citizens and families were stripped of their freedom, homes, businesses, and sense of security overnight. Limited to what they could carry in a single suitcase, they were ushered from homes to temporary living facilities in horse stalls to their final destinations, tent cities in the harsh, remote desert regions of our country. If that wasn't shameful enough the government forced everyone to take loyalty tests, which if answered honestly could result in separation or deportation. They lost everything they had built before the war and during the war they lost their dignity. For their trouble each person was given a train ticket home and $25.00 (the same package given to convicted felons upon release) with which to start their lives over again. And yet their really isn't much written about this period.

When the Emperor was Divine is the story of one family as they struggle to prepare, adjust to live within the camp, and come home from a internment camp in the Utah desert. The story is told from the perspective of members of the family in alternating chapters. The first chapter is told from the mother's point of view as they are forced to prepare for the evacuation. The fear of the unknown and the struggle to maintain their pride is palpable. The second chapter is told by the daughter as they travel to their new home, and dealing with their loss sense of identity. The third chapter is from the young son's perspective as they adjust and learn to live within the camp. The final chapter is told from either a more mature son's perspective or a combination of both the boy and girls voices telling of a once proud father, who is now just a broken paranoid shell and a family struggling to put their life together in a world they are now very unfamiliar to the world they left.

Each chapter is unique and distinct. Normally a story told like this can be choppy, but here they flow together with no harsh transitions. This book is unrelentingly depressing and dark. The family makes the best of their situation, but they are clearly broken and they are never too far from crumbling under the stress. The only thing holding them together are their bonds. Hope is in short supply.

The only real problem with this book is that it is far too short. The four chapters only cover the first few months of the war and the aftermath for this one family. It's not enough to explore the entirity of the effects of forced relocation on the family. This book calls for a much more in depth exploration of internment. But really this is only a minor defect of a well written book, that I'm glad I was able to snipe off the wishlist. ( )
1 vote stretch | Mar 15, 2014 |
This book is so short is can be easily read on a long car ride. If you take it, plan to not want to be interrupted by stops or scenery.

It is a book that is "historical fiction" but mirrors what happened to thousands (? not sure of the numbers) of Japanese Americans in US and Canada. Yes, Canada has internment camps for the possible traitors.

I loved this story and would like to reread this another time. ( )
  honkcronk | Dec 14, 2013 |
This is good book of fiction about the Japanese who were interned during WWII. Very short and to the point I enjoyed the Kierkegaard-esque style of story telling. (Fear and Trembling, that is). America put them under enemy alien status when in fact many were US citizens and totally free from complicity to treason. I have a friend who went to a camp and would tell me stories and show me pictures of he and his family 'playing' in the snow. Professional quality pictures of their internment. The book is written from the point of view of a young girl (like Anne Frank) from Berkeley, California but through another omniscient narrator goes farther into the dreams, doubts, and nightmares of all internees. More comprehensive than Farewell to Manzanar (memoir) but elegant in its description of having American dreams but having them taken away by force to be replaced by nothing except personal and collective shame. ( )
  sacredheart25 | Aug 27, 2013 |
I like the final chapter of this book a lot. It finally gives the character who we have heard from the least the opportunity to speak.

I did not like the beginning of the book at all because it included the needless killing of an animal. I imagine that things like that really happened though.

The author's way of telling all but the final chapter by describing the characters actions and thoughts was kind of annoying. The final chapter redeemed the book. ( )
  RKoletteL | Aug 22, 2013 |
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Book description
On a sunny day in Berkeley, California, in 1942, a woman sees a sign in a post office window, returns to her house, 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 homes 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 the 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. (0-385-72181-1)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385721811, Paperback)

A precise, understated gem of a first novel, Julie Otsuka's When the Emperor Was Divine tells one Japanese American family's story of internment in a Utah enemy alien camp during World War II. We never learn the names of the young boy and girl who were forced to leave their Berkeley home in 1942 and spend over three years in a dusty, barren desert camp with their mother. Occasional, heavily censored letters arrive from their father, who had been taken from their house in his slippers by the FBI one night and was being held in New Mexico, his fate uncertain. But even after the war, when they have been reunited and are putting their stripped, vandalized house back together, the family can never regain its pre-war happiness. Broken by circumstance and prejudice, they will continue to pay, in large and small ways, for the shape of their eyes. When the Emperor Was Divine is written in deceptively tranquil prose, a distillation of injustice, anger, and poetry; a notable debut. --Regina Marler

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:49 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Otsuka's commanding debut novel paints a portrait of the Japanese internment camps unlike any previously written--a haunting evocation of a family in wartime and an unmistakably resonant lesson for our times.

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Average: (3.78)
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