When the Emperor Was Divine
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When the Emperor Was Divine

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  8,517 ratings  ·  1,463 reviews
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...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published October 14th 2003 by Anchor (first published 2002)
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I finished reading When the Emperor Was Divine a couple of days ago, and I was at a loss for words for my review. Everything that I noticed, felt, and appreciated about the denseness of this sparse little book was neatly encapsulated in the synopsis of this edition. Check it out if you haven't already.

Anyway, part of my goals this year is to review every single book I read, and so OCD got the better of me, and here I am now. How can I sum up this book without being redundant? Simply this: this i...more
Apr 27, 2012 Mark rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of understated emotion
Recommended to Mark by: itself
The reasons I can pick up or purchase a book veer from recommendation and suggestion, which seems normal and sensible, through its association or appearance in a previous read, understandable and explicable, or its fabulous title, thank you Dan...up to it's being a lovely looking book.

Whenever i go to Hay on Wye, a marvelous town on the welsh/english border containing 37second hand book shops, I cringe at the shops that sell leather bound books by the foot or metre so as to populate some wealth...more
I recognize that the terse language, namelessness of the characters, and relatively uneventful plot in Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor was Divine are all aesthetic choices. They’re just not choices that I agree with.

Otsuka details the experiences of a family of Japanese Americans placed in an internment camp during World War II. It’s an engaging topic, one not overly explored in American historical fiction, but her methods of conveying the important story only serve to undermine the urgency of t...more
Assuming you have read the book description, you already know this book’s theme is the treatment of Japanese during WW2 and Japanese internment camps in the USA. It is more a study of the psychological than factual treatment of Japanese. You will not get historical facts or precise, detailed descriptions of the camps. What you will learn is how the Japanese Americans felt and how their war experiences changed them. You will feel the discrimination they experienced.

This very short novel reads as...more
I am back for another taste of Julie Otsuka's writing. It's another trim one! She certainly has the knack of saying much with brevity and skill- and making her point (s)!


Many books have been written about the outrageous internment of Japanese Americans during WW II. There have been respectable treatments of this topic, such as Farewell to Manzanar, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Snow Falling on Cedars, to name a few....more
Of all the books I've read about the Japanese-American internment camps, this one wasn't my favorite. But I'd still recommend it. It focuses on a family - mom, dad, girl and boy - and how they dealt with the ordeal before, during and after. The family is forced to leave their home in California and stay in a camp in a Utah.

The writing style was unique: unsentimental, simple and poetic. The story was gripping, but it was a bit choppy and left some holes. It's a short read, just under 145 pages, a...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
This is a very fast and worthwhile read about a Japanese family who suffers the indignities of the World War II internment camps here in the U.S. This book can easily be read in two or three hours if you have uninterrupted time. The construction is rather floaty and impressionistic rather than linear, but the prose is good and clean and easy to follow.

Prior to reading this, I'd only read about the Manzanar camp in California. So it was interesting to read about the Topaz camp in Utah. The last...more
After reading "The Buddha in the Attic" by Julie Otsuka, I was interested in reading this book. As in the first book, "When the Emperor Was Divine" is prose that reads like poetry. It is so delicately expressed that it feels like a pen and ink brush painting. Nevertheless, the book deals with a subject rarely discussed - the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. While "The Buddha in the Attic" deals with the whole Japanese immigrant experience leading up to the internment, "When...more
Dana Melinda
May 21, 2008 Dana Melinda rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those who question society, and who love great writing
I loved how different this book is from many others I've read. It's written from the point of view of several characters, whose names are never mentioned. It almost seems like the author excluded the names to make them appear generic, as if they could be any Japanese person living in America during World War Two.
This book explores the thoughts and feelings of members of one Japanese family before, during, and after they've been shipped off to a desert camp during WW2. I was left at the end with...more
This is listed as adult fiction, but feels much more like Young Adult material.

The book tells the story through different points of view in each chapter, but the audiobook has no chapter divisions. So we shift views often, and recount events, which feels like jumping around chronologically. The feel is very disjointed.

The book is full of symbolism. It describes the everyday lives and how that changes for a family of Japanese descent living in America during WWII. The language is both poetic and...more
Megan Baxter
How do you write about trauma? Are you verbose and expansive? Terse and straighforward? In this case, you use elegant and spare prose that brings home the extent of the wrong by never quite stating it in so many words.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
I'll agree with Caroline (just kidding! her name is Miss Hackmeyer) about the fact that my impression of this book changed drastically the more that I thought about it. My experience with the first 72 pages (I read it in halves) was rather bad; I thought the book was very amatuer, that her dialogue was crap, and that her devices and symbolism were both very well thought out but ultimately flat.

My experience with the second half of the book (going by pages, not chapters) was quite different. I re...more
This is a slim volume that nearly reached perfection, in my estimation. How can a book be perfect? Well, in this case, it was the marriage of art and reality. The prose is stark and straightforward, yet it reads like poetry. The story itself is heart-wrenching but handled with dignity and honesty.

This book follows one Japanese-American family from California who are separated (the father is taken earlier) and interned in a camp in Utah during WWII.

It is told from multiple perspectives, but wha...more
I liked Otsuka's "When the Emperor Was Divine," although it was more of the same as "Buddha in the Attic" albeit written in a different style. The injustice of the country's treatment of Japanese American citizens during WW II cannot be forgotten.
Really good. Just a simple, honest portrayal of how the internment felt to some people it victimized and what happened them.
Adam Rabiner
A short novel told mostly from the perspective of a young boy of 8 but also his older sister and mother. All remain nameless (perhaps reflecting the anonymity with which they were regarded by the U.S. government - just a number). The story chronicles the last days of freedom of a Japanese-American family, the mother's and children's internment in a camp in Utah for 3 years during work War II (the father was taken away by the FBI the day Pearl Harbor was bombed) and the eventual reunification of...more
The remarkable thing I found within this book was that Otsuka writes as though none of it matters, as though it's all a minor inconvenience in the otherwise routine lives of a Japanese-American family: being forced to uproot themselves from all they've known and much of what they've owed, board a train, hear nothing of the whereabouts of their arrested father, and live nearly four years in the bleak desert internment camps. Not a word is mentioned about injustice or the external circumstances of...more
The internment of Japanese Americans during WWII is seen through the eyes of a family of four, whose father is arrested from his Berkeley home the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. Some months later the mother and her elementary-school aged daughter and son are sent to the Topaz internment camp in Utah. The author shifts voices to each member of the family, and although each is distinct, they each are expressed with a dispassionate detachment. This captures the cruelly surreal circumstances, bu...more
In anticipation of reading Julie Otsuka’s acclaimed “Buddha in the Attic” for a book group, I decided to first read her earlier novel: “When The Emporer Was Divine”. It is a short book, very readable, about a Japanese family that is sent to an internment camp in the U.S. during World War II. The father is taken from their family home after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and then the mother and 2 children are taken to a camp in Utah shortly thereafter. They remain in conditions that are rat...more
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 wa...more
La storia è fatta dai vincitori, quindi è ovvio che si sappia poco dei campi di internamento giapponesi in USA. D'altrone in Europa c'erano altri campi, con finalità ben diverse, ad aver catturaro tutta l'attenzione.
Julie Otsuka, con lo stesso stile delicato ma meno frammentato di Venivamo tutte per mare, racconta tale internamento dal punto di vista di una famiglia di 4 persone: madre, padre, un figlio e una figlia. I genitori sono immigrati, ma i figli si sentono solo americani (non parlano n...more
I really liked this book about a Japanese-American mother and her two children who leave their home to go to an internment camp during World War II (the father was taken from their home on the night of Pearl Harbor). We never learn their names throughout the book - a fitting metaphor for that "unnamed but-we-know-what-you-look-like enemy" that terrifies us so much that sometimes we do crazy things - like take everyone of a certain nationality and lock them up in barracks in Utah for three years....more
Jul 11, 2013 Sarah rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sarah by: Community Read
A short, poignant story of a Japanese-American family who is "detained" during WWII. It is told from the various perspectives of the family members who were living the American Dream in Berkeley prior to the war. The boy has Joe Palooka comic books under his bed, his sister's favorite song is "Don't Fence Me In" (Bing Crosby). Their house sits on a shady street and the breezes smell of the sea.

The transition to the detention camp in the salt flats of Utah, too hot or too cold and always dusty,...more
When the Emperor was Divine is a little gem of a book. A slim 160 pages, Otsuka's debut novel tells the story of a Japanese family forced into an internment camp in 1942. Each of the five chapters is narrated by a different member of the family-the mother, who packs away the house and their old life after the relocation order came down; the daughter, who tells of the journey on the train to the Utah desert; the son, who describes life in the camp; and the father, who was arrested and held in a s...more
I remember reading Farewell to Manzanar in middle school and being horrified that the US government imprisoned Japanese American during WWII. Then I read Snow Falling on Cedars as a young adult, and felt dismayed Guterson's picture of reassimilation after people returned to their h omes. In When the Emperor Was Divine, Otsuka shows, with painfully beautiful, spare writing, one family's experience with their father's arrest, being forced from their home in Berkeley, living in the Utah desert for...more
Meh. This book was so-so. I picked it up on the library on impulse (even though I already have mountains of books waiting for me--it's a sickness) because I saw that this book was about the "Japanese internment camps." I had just read The Garden of Evening Mists and had just learned about the camps built by the Japanese for the Chinese in Malaysia. That's what I mistakenly thought this book was about and I was excited to learn more. I soon realized my mistake but I thought I'd give it a go anywa...more
I happened to see Julie Otsuka's most recent book, The Buddha in the Attic, in an email from Amazon.com and thought it looked interesting. I called my local library to have it put on hold for me and, at that time, the librarian told me about this book which was available on their shelves.

As the reviews state, Otsuka's writing is precise and understated, but also beautiful and almost poetic in nature. In When the Emperor Was Divine, we meet a Japanese-American family living in Berkeley during WW...more
This reads like an MFA thesis project. It's competently written at a technical level, but curiously flat and uninvolving because it always remains on the surface. Whatever weight or gravitas it has comes from the historical aspect (internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, for no reason other than their ancestry). The characters are not sharply drawn, and it feels like every time the author approaches any truth or insight, she scampers back to trivial surface detail. Which is a shame, becaus...more
I am conflicted as to what rating to give this book. I was going to give it three stars but after reading the last chapter, I lowered it to 2. I was initially intrigued by the way it was written in that none of the four main characters had names….they were referenced simply by mother, father, brother, sister, and various pronouns. But then you realize it is written that way because the story could be ANY of the people of Japanese descent (whether American citizens or not) during the encampments...more
My local book club recently read The Buddha in the Attic and I discovered that the author had written this book, too. It explains one family's experiences in the Japanese internment camps, with each chapter presenting the perspective of one person in the family.

I liked that this book doesn't have as jarring of an effect as her other story, and the story is just as emotionally heart-wrenching. It was certainly an eye-opening experience for me, although I've read a few other books about this dark...more
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Julie Otsuka was born and raised in California. After studying art as an undergraduate at Yale University she pursued a career as a painter for several years before turning to fiction writing at age 30. She received her MFA from Columbia. She is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Asian American Literary Award, and the American Library Association Alex Award.

Her first novel, When the Empe...more
More about Julie Otsuka...
The Buddha in the Attic Vi kom över havet Venivamo tutte per mare - Assaggi d'autore gratuiti: Ebook gratis: 2 capitoli in anteprima Venivamo tutte per mare Whites

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“And if anyone asks, you're Chinese. The boy had nodded. "Chinese," he whispered. "I'm Chinese." "And I," said the girl, "am the Queen of Spain." "In your dreams," said the boy. "In my dreams," said the girl, "I'm the King.” 14 likes
“Mostly though, they waited. For the mail. For the news. For the bells. For breakfast and lunch and dinner. For one day to be over and the next day to begin.” 10 likes
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