Large Print Reviews
When the Emperor Was Divine
By Julie Otsuka
Reviewed by Auggie Moore - November 12, 2003
When the Emperor Was Divine is a short, extraordinary novel by Julie Otsuka. This sensational book is set in California, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The story is told from the viewpoint of five different characters, each of which has a chapter devoted to their story. When their narratives are combined, the reader is presented with a unified story that chronicles the plight of one Japanese - American family as they are forced out their homes, and forced to move into a desolate internment camp.
There are only five chapters in this spellbinding, bittersweet book. I've read through this book twice already, and each time I've come away with something new. Otsuka has a unique writing style that painfully evokes the emotional and physical pain of being treated as alien enemies in their own country and at being forcefully uprooted from their homes and imprisoned without cause.
The forced internment of Japanese - American's during World War II, by the American government was a dismal moment in American History. Otsuka's writing is lyrical and intense. She effortlessly allows the reader to 'tag along' as this family suffers the tribulations imposed upon them, from their families father being arrested and hurried away without even time to put on his shoes, to the children having to pretend that they were Chinese merely to get through a day without being taunted or attacked.
When the Emperor Was Divine is Otsuka's first novel, and hopefully it is but the first of many. This book is mesmerizing and memorable. It is one of 'those books' that should be required reading for everyone - young and old, both for its literary qualities and for the importance of the story that it tells. If I were voting, I'd vote When the Emperor Was Divine the best novel, by a new author, of the year!
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