Marcy's Reviews > When the Emperor Was Divine

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
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Jan 28, 2012

it was amazing

What a sad story about the internment of a Japanese family. There is foreshadowing at the beginning of the story as the mother is packing up clothes and locking up important house items in a room of a white house in Berkeley, California. She talks gently to the family dog, and then kills him with a shovel and buries him. Her going away story is heard, but the reader does not know why this family is uprooting, or where yet.

Next the reader finds the mother, daughter and son on a train, bound for Utah. Shades have to be pulled down as they pass through cities so the outside people won't see who is inside. The story of the previous four months, living along a race track in horse stalls, begins to unravel by the inner thoughts of one member of the family at a time as the train rolls on, and the heat inside becomes unbearable.

The reader finds out that the father has been arrested in the middle of the night from his home in Berkely, accused of being a Japanese spy at the outbreak of World War II between the U.S and Japan. Letters come faithfully from the father to his family as they live their lives in the hot Nevada desert, in barracks filled with dust. The reader can see, feel, and taste the grit of the sand and desert dust storms that leak through the roof. Again, each member's story is retold from the beginning of the father's arrest, and the posted orders all over town that all Japanese families have to leave their homes.

Julie Otsuka has a gift of telling an inhumane American history event from multiple ages and perspectives of this one Japanese family. Each story is brilliantly told. I could not put the book down. I will never forget this family, whose lives were changed forever, from the beginning of the war, and long after. I am looking forward to reading her new book, The Buddha in the Attic, next.

This is an adult book, for sure, but as a high school teacher, I would make this mandatory reading for my U.S. American history course.
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