Sunday, February 12, 2017

Review: When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

Synopsis: 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 are about to be uprooted from their home and sent to a dusty internment camp in the Utah desert.
In this lean and devastatingly evocative first novel, Julie Otsuka tells their story from five flawlessly realized points of view and conveys the exact emotional texture of their experience: the thin-walled barracks and barbed-wire fences, the omnipresent fear and loneliness, the unheralded feats of heroism. When the Emperor Was Divine is a work of enormous power that makes a shameful episode of our history as immediate as today's headlines.(from the back of the book)

Review: This story centers on a Japanese-American family and starts the day the notices went up, ordering all Americans of Japanese descent to report for Internment. Told from different points of view, mother, father, brother, sister, each placing a portion of the story into place, giving the reader an all-encompassing view of the emotions, the sorrow, the endurance, the loss, which these people suffered.  It’s heartbreaking. Some, like the father, never recover. Some, like the children, have their life irrevocably altered, leaving behind whoever they might have been and becoming someone else. And some, like the mother, simple accept what comes, without complaint, like a rock at the edge of the sea. Otsuka’s prose, simple and evocative, create images that do not easily leave the mind. One can almost taste the dust of the camp, feel the biting wind, and smell the desert. A must-read, particularly in today’s social and political climate.

Bookmarks: 4.5 of 5

Awards: American Library Association's Alex Award,2003; Asian American Literary Award, 2003

ISBN: 978-0-385-72181-3
Year Published: 2002
Date Finished: 2-7-2017
Pages: 144

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