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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.

Critic Reviews

  • 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

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

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Sort by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Gillian
  • Fremont, CA, USA
  • 02-27-07

Excellent

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

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Human nature is to stereotype

Hard to resist the leap to compare this to the more recent horror of 9/11. How it must feel to be of Middle Eastern decent today. How it must have felt to be Japanese back then.
I do not say this to offend anyone, it could be said of any of us that someone of our race or country has done unthinkable things.
I think high school students would benefit from reading this book. Thank you

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Michelle
  • LEES SUMMIT, MO, United States
  • 10-24-17

Executive Order 9066- Japanese Internment

Julie Otsuka's book takes the reader into the lives of a small Japanese American family as they are 'evacuated' and interned in a camp throughout World War two and then on to their return to civilization after the war. The story with bring tears, anger, questions, and greater vision to the reader. The author dealt with this delicate subject with great dignity and grace. The journey taken was enlightening and the imagery used throughout was insightful and memorable. Best book club read of the year.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Amazing 😉 wow 😳

Must read for diversity. Trauma and a different perspective of another culture for stereotypes and biases that are so commonly accepted. Now seen from a wonderfully told story of the another story less heard and shared in common society

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Narrator

I'm not sure I would have appreciated fully the power and beauty of this story if not for the narrators incredible performance. Loved her voice in telling this

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

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 22 people found this review helpful