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When the Emperor Was Divine Kindle Edition
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|Length: 162 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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“Spare, incisive. . . . The mood of the novel tensely reflects the protagonists’ emotional state: calm surfaces above, turmoil just beneath.” –Boston Globe
“A timely examination of mass hysteria in troubled times. . . . Otsuka combines interesting facts and tragic emotions with a steady, pragmatic hand.”–The Oregonian
“Prose so cool and precise that it’s impossible not to believe what [Otsuka] tells us or to see clearly what she wants us to see. . . . A gem of a book and one of the most vivid history lessons you’ll ever learn.” –USA Today
“With a matter-of-fact brilliance, and a poise as prominent in the protagonist as it is in the writing, When the Emperor Was Divine is a novel about loyalty, about identity, and about being other in America during uncertain times.” –Nathan Englander, author of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges
“Shockingly brilliant. . . . it will make you gasp . . . Undoubtedly one of the most effective, memorable books to deal with the internment crisis . . . The maturity of Otsuka’s. . . prose is astonishing.” — The Bloomsbury Review
“The novel’s voice is as hushed as a whisper. . . . An exquisite debut. . . potent, spare, crystalline.” –O, The Oprah Magazine
“At once delicately poetic and unstintingly unsentimental.” --St. Petersburg Times
“Heartbreaking, bracingly unsentimental. . . .rais[es] the specter of wartime injustice in bone-chilling fashion. . . . The novel’s honesty and matter-of-fact tone in the face of inconceivable injustice are the source of its power. ...
- File Size : 520 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print Length : 162 pages
- Publication Date : December 18, 2007
- Publisher : Anchor (December 18, 2007)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B000XU8DKQ
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Best Sellers Rank: #64,968 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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While a noble attempt I feel that the author largely failed in her purpose due to her writing style. The book starts off well, but from the time of the train ride to the camp itself, the story gets so tremendously boring. For example, on the train the daughter stares out of the window the whole trip watching the rest of America go on with their lives, and then stares at a man on the train, and then back out the window. I get the symbolism, but there is simply not enough going on for pages and pages of the girl sitting and looking to keep any interest. It gets even worse during the chapter on life in the camp. My friend told me those chapters were meant to pass along just how monotonous those events were. There had to be a better way to show this to the reader other than writing boring prose. It was so bad that half way through the book I could not wait for it to be over.
Obviously different people are going to read this book in their own ways but personally I did not enjoy this book at all.
The story of Otsuka’s unnamed Japanese-American family is told from multiple perspectives. The first part is told from the mother’s limited third-person point of view; soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the mother, her son, and her daughter are notified that they will be relocated from Berkeley, California to an internment camp. The second section, seen through the daughter’s eyes, relates the family’s train journey to a camp in Utah after their brief stay at Tanforan, a former horse stable that’s now a shopping mall. The son provides the lens for the novel’s third section, which describes the family’s daily life in camp. Upon returning home in the fourth section, a first-person narrator (it’s unclear whether the narrator is the son or the daughter) tells of the family’s permanent sense of unease and the lasting emotional damage their 3+ years in custody has wrought. Even after the father returns (he had been apprehended by authorities before the family’s relocation) and the family is reunited, they are still incomplete—forever marred by their oppression. The father narrates the brief but potent final section of the novel, entitled “Confession.”
Set in the 1940s and written in 2002, Otsuka’s novel is—regrettably—impossibly timely, considering this year’s (2018) separation of immigrant families at the border. Few novels resonate this strongly with the past and with the future, showing us how little progress we have made on the scale of humanity and kindness.
The characters (who Otsuka keeps nameless to reflect their loss of identity not only as Americans but as individuals) are displaced from home, something which is psychologically devastating as it creates instability. This is reflected in the girl’s feelings of uncertainty, “Later that evening, the girl awoke to the sound of breaking glass. Someone had thrown a brick through a window but the gas lamps were broken and it was too dark to see” (43). The young girl is confined to a train, parched by thirst and unsure of her surroundings. The Japanese-Americans are not told where they are being taken which is frightening for an adult, let alone a child. As time passes, rumors fly throughout the camp: loss of citizenship, loss of life, or deportation; all because they are of Japanese descent.
The family is separated from their father (and husband in the wife’s case), creating uncertainty which harms each of them. For example, the young boy is confused about his father’s absence. Otsuka’s chilling description suggests the boy’s confusion is bordering on mental harm. “In the beginning the boy thought he saw his father everywhere. Outside the latrines. Underneath the showers. Leaning against barrack doorways. Playing go with the other men in their floppy straw hats on the narrow wooden benches after lunch” (49). It can be argued the boy is merely confused by the other Japanese-American men who resemble his father, but it is also arguable the boy is losing his grip on reality.
Otsuka captures the monotony of camp life and its endless routine “Three times a day the clanging of bells. Endless lines. The smell of liver drifting out across the black barrack roofs. The smell of catfish. From time to time, the smell of horse meat. On meatless days, the smell of beans…Hundreds of mouths chewing. Slurping. Sucking. Swallowing” (50). Sparse meals served to hundreds of people whose routine is arguably that of animals lining up at a trough, a dehumanizing process for all involved. The monotony of life is seen in the characters losing their sense of time. Early on, it becomes apparent there is no need to mark time as the girl recalls, “She had stopped winding it the day they had stepped off the train” (65). The mother stops tracking time, withdrawing into a world of dreams, remembering home. Her son recalls this is the first time in months he has seen her smile (95). To make things worse, the internees have no idea when their internment will end.
The loss of identity as the characters want to be “good” citizens and take punishment for something they did not do. The characters are told they are being interned for their own good and to protect them from their fellow Americans. All of this is due to racism and xenophobia which reduces Japanese-American citizens to a nameless other because they look like the enemy, regardless they have done nothing else.
The harm caused by the family’s internment continues, even after their return home. The family has lost whatever American identity they had before their internment. The family wants things to return to normal. “We would dress like they did. We would change to our names to sound more like theirs. And if our mother called out to us on the street by our real names we would turn away and pretend not to know her. We would never be mistaken for the enemy again” (114). The child’s belief is a fantasy though as the family faces overt and covert racism ranging from vandalism to their home and the indifferent reactions from their neighbors. The townspeople’s racism prevents them from differentiating their neighbors from the enemy overseas. The townspeople’s fear and hatred instills such guilt in their Japanese-American neighbors that their American identity is destroyed. “We looked ourselves in the mirror and did not like what we saw: black hair, yellow skin, slanted eyes. The cruel face of the enemy” (120). The Japanese-Americans have voluntarily endured internment to prove their loyalty, and yet their allegiance is still questioned. Otsuka’s novel is powerful in showing the effects of racism and xenophobia in reducing a person to their outward appearance.
When the Emperor Was Divine illustrates the abuse suffered by Japanese-Americans during and after World War Two due to xenophobia and racism. The Japanese-American characters fulfill what they think is their duty as good citizens, but they pay a terrible price for the fact they look like the enemy, regardless that they are American citizens and have shown no sign of disloyalty.