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When the Emperor Was Divine Hardcover – September 10, 2002
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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
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.
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Books I love or at at least really, really like:
We Need to Talk about Kevin.
Tell the Wolves I'm Home
When the Emperor Was Divine
The History of History
The Remains of the Day
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
The Night Circus
Water for Elephants
The Sisters Brothers
The Poisonwood Bible
Books I REALLY hated:
The Bear in a Muddy Tutu
The Buddha of Suburbia
A Visit from the Goon Squad
A Long Way Down
When We Were Orphans
The Haunting of Hill House
It was a breathtaking and moving read, and I couldn't admire more her minimalistic way of telling her story...This is a small book, so I read it a few times. Each time going back to read again my favorite parts. The second half of the book is phenomenal.
The story is set in 1942, after the attacks of Pearl Harbor. This is the story of a Japanese family living in Berkeley. The father has been the first one to go and now the rest of the family is sent away to another camp in Utah. I found very interesting that the characters didn't have a name, almost as if by this choice they represented any Japanese who had shared their story.
But I am going to give the book a solid 4 and 9/10 star ...because of the last chapter (in Father's voice)
Honestly, I think that chapter was unnecessary. The previous chapter had already ended so beautifully. As a reader, I had enjoyed the fact that the narration had skipped any sign of this family's anger against this unfairness. The writing is picturesque, alomst dispassionate, still it carries a heavy weight of emotion by simple details and description of their daily life. I was angry for them. I was angry because the mother took in everything without expressing any frustration. I was angry that she could adapt so well. But I loved Otsuka's masterful writing for generating all these emotions in her reader without extravaganza!
But the last chapter was different. It had Father's angry tone. But honestly, I didn't need to read it to find out Father's untold emotions, since the story itself had already revealed everything to the reader.
But even that last chapter is written so well. Otsuka is a brilliant writer!
So overall, it was a stunning read and I would recommend it to everyone. I will be looking forward to reading Julie Otsuka's next novel.
Most recent customer reviews
... not sure what we'll discuss at book although. I don't think that there is much to talk about.