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When the Emperor Was Divine [Paperback]

Julie Otsuka
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 14 2003
The debut novel from the PEN/Faulkner Award Winning Author of The Buddha in the Attic

On a sunny day in Berkeley, California, in 1942, a woman sees a sign in a post office window, returns to her home, 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 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.

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From Amazon

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This heartbreaking, bracingly unsentimental debut describes in poetic detail the travails of a Japanese family living in an internment camp during World War II, raising the specter of wartime injustice in bone-chilling fashion. After a woman whose husband was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy sees notices posted around her neighborhood in Berkeley instructing Japanese residents to evacuate, she moves with her son and daughter to an internment camp, abruptly severing her ties with her community. The next three years are spent in filthy, cramped and impersonal lodgings as the family is shuttled from one camp to another. They return to Berkeley after the war to a home that has been ravaged by vandals; it takes time for them to adjust to life outside the camps and to come to terms with the hostility they face. When the children's father re-enters the book, he is more of a symbol than a character, reduced to a husk by interrogation and abuse. The novel never strays into melodrama-Otsuka describes the family's everyday life in Berkeley and the pitiful objects that define their world in the camp with admirable restraint and modesty. Events are viewed from numerous characters' points of view, and the different perspectives are defined by distinctive, lyrically simple observations. The novel's honesty and matter-of-fact tone in the face of inconceivable injustice are the source of its power. Anger only comes to the fore during the last segment, when the father is allowed to tell his story-but even here, Otsuka keeps rage neatly bound up, luminous beneath the dazzling surface of her novel.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Read...A Bit Slow May 20 2012
By Louise Jolly TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Story Description:

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|October 14, 2003|Trade Paperback|ISBN 978-0-385-7281-3

The debut novel from the PEN/Faulkner Award Winning Author of The Buddha in the Attic

On a sunny day in Berkeley, California, in 1942, a woman sees a sign in a post office window, returns to her home, 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 their experience: the thick-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.

My Review:

Overnight signs appeared on trees, billboards, bus stop benches, and store windows in Berkeley, California, in 1942 ordering Japanese Americans to a dusty internment camp in the Utah desert. They had been "reclassified" as enemy aliens. This novel follows one family's story; Mom, Dad, and two young children, a girl and a boy.

The father had been taken a few months prior by the FBI in the middle of the night in his bathrobe and slippers and imprisoned leaving Mom and the children alone to face the internment camp.

Everyone was given an identification number to pin on their shirt and boarded a bus that would take them to a train.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When the Emporor Was Divine Oct. 19 2003
By Loulou
Format:Paperback
"When the Emperor Was Divine" by Julie Otsuka tells the story of an anonymous family who suffers during the time of the internment of Japanese C American citizens during World War II. Right after the attack on Peal Harbor, evacuation orders was posted everywhere stating that whoever of Japanese background was supposed to move out of town. One evening, in the middle of the night, the father of the family was taken away from the FBI for questioning. The mother after seeing the evacuation poster decided to go to that internment with her son and daughter. It was a long and miserable train ride. They weren't used to the environment. They were surrounded by wired fences, wooden towers and guards. The two kids had nothing to do. The weather is always terrible. They had to go through harsh seasons in the desert. The environment started to drive them insane. The mother had no strength for anything, she didn't want to eat and slept all the time. After the war, they were sent home. Their home was vandalized. They had returned to their normal lifestyle. Except that there was still a Japanese hatred going on. For example, the boy's and the girl's friends whom they used to be very close were trying to avoid them or even discriminate them. At the end of the book, their father was sent back home. Their lives weren't really the same anymore. The father changed so much. His physical and mental appearances were not the same as before. He turned into a sorrow and a lost person not knowing what to do. The mother works will he stays at home and wonders. Their lives have been affected and have been changed by the prejudice and war.
I really liked this book because the author, Julie Otsuka, gave us the reader a very vivid portrait of the fears, confusion for the family in the internment camps.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Perspectives Nov. 15 2007
By V. Tran
Format:Paperback
This was a wonderfully simplistic book. It gives a child's perspective of what was happening the family. I suspect the author chose to use "father", "mother", and "brother" simply because of the Asian or in this case Japanese culture. It references the strong Confucius influence in Asian nations where one pays respect to their elders and family.
Seriously though regardless of cultural background, do you call your mom and dad by their first names?

And in reference to the ignorant person above, if you wish to actually view one of the grounds, visit the Pullayup Fair Grounds in Washington State. They housed farm animals like pigs, horses and such in stalls. (still do) That was one of the sites that served as an internment camp. They basically poured concrete on the grass parking lot and put up buildings with tiny rooms. Again, the Japanese from JAPAN, started the war by that time most Japanese Americans were third generation American born and bred.

[...]
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4.0 out of 5 stars A short but revealing novel July 16 2004
Format:Paperback
When the Emperor Was Divine was one of the required readings in a college English Lit. class I took last semester. It's well-written, touching, and revealing: each chapter gives us a view of the repercussions the internment had on the members of the Japanese-American family we follow throughout the short novel.
I would like to point out to "a reader" from Appleton, Wisconsin (2/22/04) that the author, Julie Otsuka, is narrating what happened to her own mother, who was the inspiration for the girl's character, and her family in the years between Pearl Harbor and the end of WWII. In that sense Otsuka becomes the voice of a first-person witness of the events.
This book sparked very lively discussions and a lot of research on the subject among the students; most of us, while understanding the war-time heightened need for security, agreed on the injustice of depriving thousands of people of their liberty without just cause: most internees had no contacts with the enemy, had never set foot in Japan, and were loyal Americans. For many of us this book represented a different view on a seldom talked-about period of our history.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Dry documentary account handles this difficult subject
Throughout the reading I was very concerned with the names - or rather with the lack of names in the story. There is the Father, Mother, Boy and Girl. Read more
Published on June 28 2004 by Tsila Sofer Elguez
4.0 out of 5 stars Back to the WWII
This is a great book. "When the EMPEROR Was Divine" by Julie Otsuka written in the year 2002. This book is divided in five different chapters. Read more
Published on March 28 2004 by Kevin
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreaking.
The imprisonment of American citizens of Japanese descent, post Pearl Harbor, remains one of those open, gaping wounds of despicable behavior in our country's history. Read more
Published on March 4 2004 by L. Quido
4.0 out of 5 stars A dishonorable moment in American history . . . in brief
If someone had recommended a book about the struggles of a Japanese-American family during WWII, I definitely would have declined. Read more
Published on Feb. 23 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Oh, jebus
I admit that I do not feel much sympathy for Japan around the time of World War II. I understand that the principle of sending the Japanese to internment camps was wrong. Read more
Published on Feb. 22 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Debut Novel
Lovely novel about the internment of Japanese ancestry but American citizens by the military during WWII. Read more
Published on Feb. 16 2004 by John I. Provan
4.0 out of 5 stars divine prose
Terrific read ~ clearly more nonfiction than imaginary in text and scope. The effects of war are not devastating on soldiers only; war tears through the whole fabric of humankind. Read more
Published on Jan. 16 2004 by T. Kepler
5.0 out of 5 stars a radiant read!
Life in balmy Berkeley, California for the Mother & her family in 1942 was charmed. Then one dreadful winter morning the FBI took her husband away still in his slippers & robe,... Read more
Published on Jan. 12 2004 by Rebecca Brown
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful!
I would recommend you read this book, place it back on the shelf, and then read it again in two weeks. Read if first for the simple joy. Read more
Published on Nov. 12 2003 by D. Blankenship
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