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When the Emperor Was Divine | [Julie Otsuka]

When the Emperor Was Divine

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 they are about to be uprooted from their home and sent to a dusty internment camp in the Utah desert.
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Publisher's Summary

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 they 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.

©2003 Julie Otsuka; (P)2003 Random House, Inc., Random House Audio, A Division of Random House, Inc.

What the Critics Say

  • Alex Award Winner, 2003

"Exceptional...Otsuka skillfully dramatizes a world suddenly foreign...[Her] incantatory, unsentimental prose is the book's greatest strength." (The New Yorker)
"The novel's honesty and matter-of-fact tone in the face of inconceivable injustice are the source of its power." (Publishers Weekly)
"Mesmerizing." (The New York Times)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Gillian Fremont, CA, USA 02-27-07
    Gillian Fremont, CA, USA 02-27-07
    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
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    "Excellent"

    Fascinating book, couldn't wait to drive home to turn on the ipod and listen.
    A classic

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stewart Gooderman San Francisco, CA 09-25-05
    Stewart Gooderman San Francisco, CA 09-25-05 Member Since 2005

    DrG

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Well written. Don't agree with the author's point."

    I heard so many good things about this book (and the fact that many schools recommend it) that I was very eager to read it myself. What a letdown! In fact, the book actually made me feel that the government was correct in what they did to individuals of Japanese decent during WW II, something I never thought before!

    We are never lead to believe that the family this tale revolves around are actually citizens of the United States but rather are resident aliens. Pearl Harbor has just been attacked by Japan for no reason other than pure aggression. Americans DIED there, and many, many more DIED on the Pacific warfront over the next several years. Yet when the family's matriarch is asked to swear loyalty to the United States, her attitude is one of "I'll say yes because I don't want to make trouble, because I don't want to go back to Japan, because these are only meaningless words to me." This is when I completely lost all sympathy with the family.

    Yes, the book shows the subsequent desintegration of the family that the war had caused. But, as the author points out, many families that were their neighbors also suffered losses and family disruptions. Their husbands and sons were separated to war and many never came back.

    Was our government right to do what it did during those war years? Personally I don't think so, but this book certainly didn't reinforce my sympathy.

    3 of 18 people found this review helpful
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