Friday, September 23, 2011

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

In 1942, signs were posted throughout the United States announcing that all those of Japanese descent must report to the government for their own protection.  Neighbors disappeared overnight and friends instantly became enemies.  No questions were asked as internment camps appeared and possessions of those imprisoned  were overtaken by those not.  Otsuka's novel explores one family's experiences from beginning to end, and brings out a shameful history that we should never forget.

When the Emperor Was Divine is an intriguing read that educated me a bit more on a part of World War II that I was not as familiar with.  It left me wanting a non-fiction version of what the victims experienced before, during, and after, particularly after reading the following quote ...
"Life was easier, they said, on this side of the fence." (p. 67)
"This side of the fence" referred to the side behind the guards and barbed wire of the internment camps.  "This side of the fence" didn't have to face the hate, the return to nothing, and the question of what tomorrow would bring.  "This side of the fence" brought regular meals, a roof over their heads, and in a sense, safety.

Otsuka's writing was not my favorite.  It was simplistic and choppy, but written in a way that could be considered reflective of the narrators, stating the facts of a situation out of their control and treated as a number, de-humanized and void of emotion.  I truly consider it more of a way that can introduce the general population to a piece of history and encourage them to search for the facts to prevent something like this happening ever again.  I will even start this research by leaving you with a little video ...

Can you think of other novels that may serve as gateways to the social justice and/or nonfiction realm?


  1. I like novels that open people's eyes to a part of history that's less well known. I picked up a copy of this book used a while back and have been meaning to read it since. Thanks for the review, and for sharing the video as well.

  2. Erin ... You're welcome Erin! I will be curious to read your thoughts as well when you get to it!


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