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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When the Emporor Was Divine
"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...
Published on Oct. 19 2003 by Loulou

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3.0 out of 5 stars Good Read...A Bit Slow
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...
Published on May 20 2012 by Louise Jolly


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3.0 out of 5 stars Good Read...A Bit Slow, May 20 2012
By 
Louise Jolly "Bookaholic" (Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: When the Emperor Was Divine (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. The train was slow moving and old and hadn't been used in years. Broken gas lamps hung from the walls and the train was fuelled by a coal burning broiler. Some of the passengers were sick from the uneven rocking of the train cars. The compartments were crowded and smelled of puke and sweat making the nausea people felt even worse.

The train finally stopped in Delta, Utah where the people were led off the train by armed soldiers and led onto a bus. The bus drove slowly until it reached Topaz where the passengers saw hundreds of tar-paper barracks sitting beneath the hot blazing sun. They saw nothing but telephone poles and barbed wire fencing. As they stepped off the bus they were assaulted by clouds of fine white dust that choked them, which had once been the bed of an ancient salt lake. The white glare of the desert was blinding.

Each new day brought the smells of food: catfish, horsemeat, beans, Vienna sausage. Inside the barracks there were iron cots, a potbellied stove and a single bare bulb that hung down from the ceiling. There was a table made out of crate wood, an old Zenith radio and no running water and the toilets were half a block away.

In early autumn farm recruiters arrived to sign up new workers, and the War Relocation Authority allowed many of the young men and women to go out and help harvest the crops. Some went to Idaho to top sugar beets, some went to Wyoming to pick potatoes, some went to Tent City in Provo to pick peaches and pears. Some of the people returned wearing brand new Florsheim shoes while others came back with the same shoes saying they were shot at and spat on and would never go back. They reported that there were signs posted all over the town that read: NO JAPS ALLOWED.

Every week there were new rumors in the camp. They heard that men and women would be put in separate camps; they would be sterilized; they would be stripped of citizenship; they'd be taken out on the high seas and shot; they would be taken to a desert island and left alone to die; they would all be deported to Japan; and on and on the rumors went. The people took these assaults on their mental and emotional health in stride.

In mid-October a school was opened in the barracks for the children. Each morning they had to sing: "Oh, beautiful for spacious skies" and "My country `tis of thee."

After 3 years and 5 months the war was over and they were finally home! The house had changed; paint was peeling from the walls, it smelled, the window frames were black with dry rot and their furniture was gone, probably stolen. Although many people had lived in their house during their time away, they had not received one single cheque from the lawyer who promised to rent their home for them. It was a difficult readjustment for them to suddenly just pick up their lives where they left off and try to continue on and reintegrate.

When their father finally returned home after more than 4 years he looked much, much older than his age of 56. His face was lined with wrinkles, his suit was faded and worn, his head was bare, he moved very slowly and carefully using a cane. Their father never spoke about his years in prison and never said what they eventually accused him of - sabotage? Selling secrets to the enemy? Was he innocent? He was a much changed man who was suspicious of everyone, even the paperboy. He never returned to work. The company he had worked for before he left had been liquidated and nobody else would hire him: "he was an old man, his health was not good, he had just come back from a camp for dangerous enemy aliens."

At 144 pages this was an interesting and quick read and gives a very good picture of a rather embarrassing part of American history.
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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
This review is from: When the Emperor Was Divine (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. This book gives us another point of view not from an American but from Japanese. It is written in a melancholic vocabulary. Throughout the book, the tone of this book is somewhat sad. It is showed by the descriptions of the nature and weather. But there is only one passage of the book where there is a bright happiness. It is one of the boy¡¯s dream where there is ¡°a beautiful wooden door the size of a pillow. Behind it is a second door, and behind that is a picture of the emperor that no one is allowed to see because the emperor is holy and divine C a god.¡± I have learned a lot from this book. How the internment prisoners were treated and how there life had affected their lives.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Perspectives, Nov. 15 2007
By 
V. Tran "minivan" (Seattle, Wa) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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
This review is from: When the Emperor Was Divine (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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5.0 out of 5 stars Dry documentary account handles this difficult subject, June 28 2004
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This review is from: When the Emperor Was Divine (Paperback)
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. They have no names, as if no identity. I asked myself several times why the author has chosen to do so. Isn't it true we better understand a general story concerning a disaster that happened to many people when we hear the tale and hardships of one specific individual, one family? But maybe the author wanted to stress that this is not the story of one family but of many people the author knew, and the Father, Mother Boy and Girl are just four people amongst many whose fate was similar. The family members stand as symbols to many others. Or maybe she chose to do so in order to make the alienation and dehumanization experience more accentuated? The answer might be both. The alienation is a very central theme of this story and works also within the family as the members of the family seem to hold out a lot of feelings from each other (although they clearly love each other) as a self defense mechanism (or so I believe) and also as breaking down will not help the situation.
This is a story about the fate of the Japanese Americans during World War II, when each one of them was suspected as assisting the enemy. Although I am familiar with World War II stories this is an historical event I never heard about, which bears a bitter resemblance to the fate of Jewish people in Europe during same war. The Japanese were not sent to death camps but were closed in concentration camps from which they did not return the same people. There is clearly a large difference but the details of the earlier notices limiting the Japanese Americans actions, the long train rides where uncertainty prevails, the concentration camps - all sound like many Holocaust accounts, a fact that makes this story hard to bear.
It took me some time to understand the name "When the emperor was divine", which relates to the religious belief that the Emperor is a god; a belief the American Japanese had to hide during World War II.
The fact that neither the family (the children) nor the reader knows what the father underwent during his long confinement and seperation from the family (in spite of the last part "confession" that can give us a few hints) makes his missing for four years stay incomplete and unexplained. The children grew up in a very vague understanding of what happened, and probably had to fill up the rest of the information by their own. I can only imagine the conflict of loyalties created after the war when the country you live in is the one responsible to your family's suffering.
The power of the book is the fact that there is a shortage in overflow of emotions, which could have been a very easy way to deal with the very difficult subject. The author chose to tell her story in a dry, somewhat documentary language. The horrors are told very subtly and in a somewhat "side look" fashion - "she read the sign from top to bottom... she wrote down a few words on the back of a bank receipt." as if what the sign says concerns someone else and not the end of your life as you knew them. I believe that holding back your emotions is also a very Japanese way to which the author remained loyal. The language is a combination of a dry account with dreams and thoughts that sometimes turn the prose into lyrical poetry.
Not an easy read but a very good historical, important account.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Back to the WWII, March 28 2004
By 
Kevin (San Francisco, CA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: When the Emperor Was Divine (Paperback)
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. Each chapter is mainly focuses on one of the main character's perspective. The whole story in this book is about the "Japanese Internment camps", a.k.a "Relocation" or "Concentration camps". Therefore, I DO recommend YOU to read this !!.. It's a very good historical story during World War II. If you like history, definitely read this book because it's very to understand. Don't need to think about it, just read it when you have time. It IS time to go back to WWII ...
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5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreaking., March 4 2004
By 
L. Quido "quidrock" (Tampa, FL United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: When the Emperor Was Divine (Paperback)
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. Most of the historical tomes and novels of WWII fail to address the country's overreaction to the Japanese Empire's aggression and terrorism. And, indeed, our government's "protection" of these citizens may have saved some of the Japanese populace from civilian attacks. Still, the actions of the government, and the silent response of the American people closely parallel the rise of McCarthyism in the next decade, and also harken some of the less-publicized aspects of today's Patriot Act.
Otsuka has chosen a more delicate approach to her tale than that of nonfiction writiers. "When the Emperor Was Divine" tells its story from the viewpoints of a family of four, torn apart by Evacuation Order #19. A young Japanes mother in Berkeley, left alone with an 11 year-old girl and an 8 year-old son begins to pack and to close her house as soon as she sees the order posted. Saddest of her tasks is how she must deal with the family's pets, all the while maintaining an air of normalcy for her children that masks her fear.
The children's father has been spirited away by the FBI in his bathrobe and slippers in the middle of the night, questioned endlessly, and imprisoned in Texas.
Otsuka's tale focuses on the journey of the mother and the children; an intermediate holding facility at the Tanforan race track in California is couched in memory as the family is transported by train to the deserts of Utah.
In stark passages - poetry in the form of prose, Otsuka conveys the pain and hopelessness of the three and a half years the family spends imprisoned. From the third person she writes primarily from the viewpoint of each child as the mother retreats into herself. Long days without hope mingle with cruel weather conditions in the desert...
" Summer was a long hot dream. Every morning, as soon as the sun rose, the temperature began to soar. By noon the floors were sagging. The sky was bleached white from the heat and the wind was hot and dry. Yellow dust devils whirled across the sand. The black roofs baked in the sun. The air shimmered..."
Their days are punctuated with memories of the father, small incidents of camp life, endless waiting for the war to be over, with cold and shortages, and with the endless alkaline wind and dust of their surroundings. Desolate in the summer, frigid in the winter, it seems that the desert mirror their souls as their hope for the future dies.
Otsuka uses the writer's convention of never naming her protagonists ("the girl", "the boy", "the mother", "his father"). In using this language she is able to convey the dehumanization effort they have undergone in a way that mere words cannot usually describe.
It is with a sense of wonder and letdown that the reader observes their return to Berkeley, their reunification with the father, and the semblance of life that remains to them after America has stolen their souls.
Otsuka, in her first novel, astonishes you with her ability to capture not only the hearts and minds of her characters, but also that of her readers.
A marvelous debut that will break your heart.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A dishonorable moment in American history . . . in brief, Feb. 23 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: When the Emperor Was Divine (Paperback)
If someone had recommended a book about the struggles of a Japanese-American family during WWII, I definitely would have declined. So many historical novels are seemingly endless and downright oppressive and boring. Ms. Otsuka's writing, however, is refreshingly sparse, blunt, and does not reek of "woe is me." She gets her point across quite well in less than 200 pages! Ms. otsuka quickly engages the reader's imagination and emapthy giving pause to the heinous betrayal of human dignity and human rights in the name of fear and ignorance. Grab a cup of Green tea and enjoy trip back in time.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Debut Novel, Feb. 16 2004
By 
John I. Provan "enkindu" (St. Charles, IL United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Lovely novel about the internment of Japanese ancestry but American citizens by the military during WWII. Something we said we would try to avoid doing again here in America but many Muslim American citizens were arrested without evidence and held for several months before being released. We have to break this cycle in America of judging human beings based on race or ethnicity. Novels liek Julie's will help us remember the mistakes of our past so maybe we won't continue to make them in the future.
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4.0 out of 5 stars divine prose, Jan. 16 2004
By 
T. Kepler (California, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: When the Emperor Was Divine (Paperback)
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. This is not a unique observation but this story is a unique perspective.
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When the Emperor Was Divine
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka (Paperback - Oct. 14 2003)
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