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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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1,419845,323 (3.78)199
Title:When the Emperor Was Divine
Authors:Julie Otsuka
Info:Anchor (2003), Paperback, 160 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Own, Japan, Diaspora, America, Non-fiction

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When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka (2002)


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This is the story of one Japanese family in California after the outbreak of World War II. The father is snatched away one night. Then a couple of days later the mother and the two children are sent to a holding area in a stable and then on to Utah to an internment camp. This is a testament to a shameful period in our U.S. history. I certainly did not learn about this in my history classes. This is something that should be acknowledged and discussed. We are given no character names, but yet we come to know the characters well in the story. We learn of the poor treatment and the poor conditions that these people were forced to endure as Japanese-American citizens. These people were good hard-working every day people who were now held suspect.

I found this to be well written. Since it is short and thought provoking it would be great for book clubs. It is fast paced and moves right along. Great book for a U.S. history class, because it is easy to follow and understand. How would you feel if you were taken away from your family, friends, home and possessions for years to return home to nothing? That had to be devastating and painful both emotionally and financially. Giving them 25 dollars a person does not make up for the shame, loss of respect and poor treatment that they endured!! I give this book a 4 out of 5 stars. ( )
  Pattymclpn | Jun 14, 2015 |
A riveting account of a Japanese family’s experiences in America during World War II.

Julie Otsuka uses sparse, unsentimental prose to convey the details that make up daily life even when that life is being irretrievably uprooted. The result is lyrical and driven by the turbulent emotions almost hidden under the prose. Otsuka’s manner of telling her story seems to reflect the Japanese cultural demand for control with a more western impulse to reveal the inner pain. I found myself unable to resist being drawn into the story.

Read more: http://wp.me/p24OK2-1o2 ( )
  mdbrady | May 18, 2015 |
When The Emperor was Divine, a novel by Julie Otsuka is a powerful story of a Japanese-American family during the Second World War. It is a short book and might be a good story to use in an American history class. I have used fiction in the past (Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Edward Abbey's Monkeywrench Gang, for example) and it generally works well to encourage students to deconstruct ideas and events. The trick to make it effective is to know how representative the story is to wider experience. I have not read enough on the internment experience to know the answer to this question. For example, Otsuka's family returns to their house after the war. How often did this occur? This is an important part of her story because the author can show how different their life was after the war by contrasting their pre-war and post-war lives. Their status in the community certainly suffered from the stigma of internment. How representative is the father, who was interned the very night of the Pearl Harbor attack and does not reunite with his family until December 1945? Again, it is a crucial part of the story, and I found the last chapter "Confession" to be particularly insightful (I am still debating the meaning of the final sentence). He returns a truly broken man. In another clear indication of how internment impacted the family, the dream of a return to normalcy is crushed the minute they see "Papa" at the train station, four years after the FBI spirited him away.

From my blog: http://gregshistoryblog.blogspot.com/2012/07/when-emperor-was-divine.html ( )
1 vote gregdehler | Aug 24, 2014 |
I finished reading When the Emperor Was Divine a couple of days ago, and I was at a loss for words for my review. Everything that I noticed, felt, and appreciated about the denseness of this sparse little book was neatly encapsulated in the synopsis of this edition. Check it out if you haven't already.

Anyway, part of my goals this year is to review every single book I read, and so OCD got the better of me, and here I am now. How can I sum up this book without being redundant? Simply this: this is a book that needs to be read at some point in your life. It's a part of "silent" history, because as of today we have yet know all the different ways Japanaese American families were affected during this pivotal time of American history. Life didn't just resume like it had before. People were changed. Familes were displaced. Belongings were lost. Spirits were broken.

Even though this was Otsuka's debut novel, I'm glad I read her follow-up first. In retrospect, The Buddah in the Attic almost seems like a prequel. Either way, you can't go wrong with either one of these books. They're short novellas, and for a somewhat slow reader, I was able to finish both in one to two sittings. Check them out if you get a chance! ( )
  dreamydress48 | Jul 26, 2014 |
WHEN THE EMPEROR WAS DIVINE, by Julie Otsuka, is a starkly evocative look at the way Japanese-American citizens were treated - or, perhaps more accurately, MIStreated - during the Second World War. Camp Topaz, in the Utah Desert, was just one of many internment, or 'relocation,' centers where whole families were kept locked up behind barbed wire fences with armed watchtowers surrounding them. Such internment camps have often been compared to concentration camps, but I'm not sure that's a fair comparison. Nevertheless, a whole group of Americans were rounded up, dispossessed and imprisoned for 3-4 years simply because of their ethnic heritage.

Otsuka's novel is perhaps even more effective because her protagonists - four members of one family - are never named. They are simply, the mother, the father, the boy and the girl. The unnamed family members could be any Japanese-American family of that time. The father is spirited away in the night; the rest of the family is given only a few days to pack their suitcases and leave their homes, transported first to processing centers - in stables - and then to a desolate desert camp in Utah. The psychological, physical and emotional effects of this callous uprooting are devastating. Otsuka's eye for detail and ear for dialogue are simply superb. Her novel is a microcosmic look at what happened to tens of thousands of families across the western U.S.

I was immediately reminded of the excellent YA classic, FAREWELL TO MANZANAR, which I read many years ago, one of many books about the relocation camps. But Otsuka's WHEN THE EMPEROR WAS DIVINE is especially stunning and unique in its multiple and anonymous points of view. This is an outstanding fictional look at a shameful episode in our country's history. Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote TimBazzett | Jun 29, 2014 |
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This book is for my parents
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:49 -0400)

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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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