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When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

When the Emperor Was Divine (original 2002; edition 2003)

by Julie Otsuka

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1,8721076,383 (3.76)224
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.
Title:When the Emperor Was Divine
Authors:Julie Otsuka
Info:Anchor (2003), Paperback
Collections:Removed from Library
Tags:read in 2007, swapped, fiction, woman authors, orange prize longlist

Work details

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka (2002)

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

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English (103)  French (2)  Spanish (1)  All languages (106)
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A fast, but deep, read. Follows the thoughts and feelings of a Japanese family (mother, son, daughter) when they are forced to leave their home during the Japanese internment during WWII. ( )
  Shofbrook | Nov 6, 2020 |
It is spring and the year is 1942. The second world war is the only thing on people's lips. It's a sunny day when the woman sees the sign at the post office – the sign telling her she is know a dangerous enemy alien and will be re-located along with other Japanese Americans. She hides the silver near the tree out in the yard, she lets her daughter's bird go and kills the family dog before burying him under the tree.

After months in a barn, she is sent to a camp in the middle of Utah with her two children. It is dusty and hot; and no one is allowed outside the fence. Together with thousands of other Japanese Americans, the small family waits for the day when the war ends and the day they will see their dad again; a man they can barely picture in their head anymore.

Otsuka's writing is so beautiful. It's emotional and descriptive and it's hard not to feel with the characters. It reminded me a lot of poetry, Richard Siken's poetry in particular. I feel like I'd probably read the whole law book if it was written by Otsuka, y'know?

I know next to nothing about Japanese American's situation in the US during the Second World War. I suppose my excuse is that I'm from Northern Europe; and the American influences in the war isn't really highlighted that much during our education. But I knew Japanese Americans had a rough time during the war, but I definitely didn't know it was like this. I'm not entirely sure why I'm surprised about it but it felt heavy to read – and to know this was reality for so many Japanese Americans. It is something we should stop leaving out of our history books and talk more about. ( )
  autisticluke | Nov 14, 2019 |
I try to make a point to read from authors who come from a different space than I do in order to learn broadly. Julie Otsuka’s memoir/novel about her San Francisco – based family’s relocation to the Japanese internment camps during World War II was brilliant. It’s told through a few periods of time and from the perspective of an adolescent experiencing this relocation, and told from her family’s history. It’s not in-your-face political challenge, but it’s a powerful story because it is true and real.
( )
  patl | Feb 18, 2019 |
California, 1942 - a woman and her son and daughter are evacuated from their home and brought to an internment camp. Their experiences, in a series of descriptive impressions and memories, follow them through the war years and returning home afterward.

This short novel packs a powerful punch. Otsuka is deliberate in every detail of her craft, from the images she evokes to what she leaves out or only mentions in passing, to the shifts in points of view. The lack of characters' names distances them, yet at the same time, presents an almost universal example of what the experience was like for a family. And that example is so heartbreaking, cringe-inducing, all the more powerful for the spare writing style. It makes for a very uncomfortable reading experience - which is, of course, precisely what it's meant to be. I can't fault Otsuka for flawlessly executing the story she set out to write. I admire it, but I don't like it. ( )
  bell7 | Jan 20, 2019 |
A short, beautifully written novella about one Japanese-American family's experience during World War II and the internment camps. The narrative switches between the two children and their mother, and the final segment is in the father's voice. He has been a mostly absent figure in the story, as he was removed from their home right after Pearl Harbor and treated as an enemy alien. His short "confession" at the end is incredibly powerful.

The lovely, spare prose stands in stark contrast to the disgraceful story it tells. Nicely narrated by Elaina Erika Davis. ( )
  katiekrug | Oct 31, 2018 |
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This book is for my parents
and in memory of Toyoko H. Nozaka
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The sign had appeared overnight.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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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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