When the Emperor Was Divine
by Julie Otsuka
Paperback- $12.23

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 ...

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  "When the Emperor was Divine" by linnapoos (see profile) 02/08/10

The problem I had with this book was that I felt it was a very long introduction...to the actual book. I kept wondering, "When is the story going to start?" I found it tedious to read and felt no connection to any of the characters. Based on the time period of the book, maybe that's what the author intended.

  "quick read" by jlurz43 (see profile) 02/26/12

This book was a very quick read.

  "When The Emperor Was Divine, Julie Otsuka" by thewanderingjew (see profile) 04/19/13

Just as the first chapter sets the stage for this brief but moving, heartbreaking novel, as the unnamed woman and her family prepare for an unknown journey into an unknowable future, the reader will put aside their plans for the day, their chores, their appointments, and simply prepare to keep reading, captivated by a tale that is so immense in its cruelty, so unfair in its scope as to be unimaginable by most people, and yet, this horror, this stain upon our nation, truly took place under the watchful eyes of an America steeped in fear.
The brutality making headlines in Europe, had now marched lockstep to the United States, as an entire race of people were imprisoned for their race, their heritage, their religion, their beliefs, and although not as brutal as Hitler’s tactics were, the disgraceful and shameful behavior had an enormous impact on innocent people who truly believed they were Americans. Their lives were ruined as they were taken away, uprooted. Their belongings were looted and their homes vandalized. Americans were angry and felt justified in their cruelty and blindness. Why didn’t we imprison, Germans or Italians? Was it because they looked like us, because they didn’t attack us directly? The behavior was shameful and the blight it placed on the history of this country can never be erased.
The author does a monumental job of setting the scene, imagining characters who remain nameless, which made them nondescript, removed them emotionally from the narrative, and, at the time, from the minds of the people perpetrating the cruelty. It was as if the strangers and their suffering had no connection to reality, to those who participated in their humiliation, or to us, the readers. We, as they, were merely observers; we don’t share in the guilt. We wear blinders.
It begins with the woman. She is tired and overworked, alone and overburdened. Her husband is in prison. We see her kill the dog, without emotion, set the beloved parrot loose without a tear. She simply, stoically, does what has to be done. She has no other choice.
The Japanese were obedient. Although they were Americans, truly believed they were, they were all displaced and disowned because one among them might be a traitor. How could you know which one? You had to remove the tumor, all of it. Didn’t you?
We meet the young girl, a mere child, 10 years old, full of life. She doesn’t realize this adventure will be longer and lonely. She will enter puberty there, become a woman, away from her only home, and she will be forced to adapt. There is also her 7-year old brother, an innocent as well, playing with her as if they are going on vacation, not to a relocation area which was really a “prison” by any other name. He is missing his father desperately, wondering where he is, what is happening to him, will he ever return. Everything was unknown, a secret. He lived in his imaginings.
The father was a handsome, strong, moral man who instilled his family with hope and values. In prison, he loses all hope; he is demoralized when he returns. He is changed. He was taken away in his bathrobe, humiliated and not afforded the rights of a citizen. He was, suddenly, an enemy alien. So he returned, when the war ended, no longer having hope or a future. But, everyone suffered, didn’t they? Wasn’t it a sacrifice all had to make for the health and safety of the country?
It is really impossible to justify war when one weighs the price that is paid. The soldiers’ families were torn asunder, as men did not return home, as those that did, returned broken. All of the families were bereaved and forever changed.
As you read, you can’t help but compare the cattle cars that transported Hitler’s victims, to the trains transporting the internees; you will see the gymnasiums, the gathering places where the Japanese were assembled and then your mind will jump to the squares where the demoralized Jews gathered; the confusion of both groups will be similar, at first, their fears will be the same; where were they going, for how long? The Jews were a peaceful people; they went quietly into the night, as the Japanese did, to an unknown fate. While the one was truly a temporary if unjust transport, and the victims weren’t murdered or starved as the other nameless, numbered victims were, they were forever scarred by their experiences. In her short thoughtful sentences, this author has written a beautiful testament to the silent suffering of a people which will make the reader wonder about the cruelty that we are all capable of committing, and wonder how was this allowed to happen?

  "When the Emperor was Divine" by vernandglen (see profile) 05/08/14

Overall I enjoyed the book, but felt that it was written like a newspaper article and not as enjoyable as it could have been

  "Short but Amazing Read" by BookDivasReads (see profile) 05/09/14

This was an amazingly fast read for me and my fellow book group members, yet the author was able to pack a powerful punch with her brevity. The writing style may be sparse and at times rather dark due to the subject matter, but the overall effect of this style with the subject matter was found to be the perfect way to portray this dark time in US history.

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