When the Emperor Was Divine
From the bestselling, award-winning author of The Buddha in the Attic and The Swimmers, this commanding debut novel paints a portrait of the Japanese American incarceration camps that is both a haunting evocation of a family in wartime and a resonant lesson for our times.
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 incarceration 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.
Praise for When the Emperor Was Divine
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“[Otsuka's] voice never falters, equally adept at capturing horrific necessity and accidental beauty. Her unsung prisoners of war contend with multiple front lines, and enemies who wear the faces of neighbors and friends. It only takes a few pages to join their cause, but by the time you finish this exceptional debut, you will recognize that their struggle has always been yours.” —Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys
"Mesmerizing ... [Otsuka has] lyric gifts and narrative poise, [a] heat-seeking eye for detail [and] effortless ability to empathize with her characters."—The New York Times
“Exceptional. . . . Otsuka skillfully dramatizes a world suddenly foreign. . . . [Her] incantatory, unsentimental prose is the book’s greatest strength.” –The New Yorker
“Spare, incisive. . . . The mood of the novel tensely reflects the protagonists’ emotional state: calm surfaces above, turmoil just beneath.” –Boston Globe
“A timely examination of mass hysteria in troubled times. . . . Otsuka combines interesting facts and tragic emotions with a steady, pragmatic hand.”–The Oregonian
“Prose so cool and precise that it’s impossible not to believe what [Otsuka] tells us or to see clearly what she wants us to see. . . . A gem of a book and one of the most vivid history lessons you’ll ever learn.” –USA Today
“With a matter-of-fact brilliance, and a poise as prominent in the protagonist as it is in the writing, When the Emperor Was Divine is a novel about loyalty, about identity, and about being other in America during uncertain times.” –Nathan Englander, author of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges
“Shockingly brilliant. . . . it will make you gasp . . . Undoubtedly one of the most effective, memorable books to deal with the internment crisis . . . The maturity of Otsuka’s. . . prose is astonishing.” — The Bloomsbury Review
“The novel’s voice is as hushed as a whisper. . . . An exquisite debut. . . potent, spare, crystalline.” –O, The Oprah Magazine
“At once delicately poetic and unstintingly unsentimental.” --St. Petersburg Times
“Heartbreaking, bracingly unsentimental. . . .rais[es] the specter of wartime injustice in bone-chilling fashion. . . . The novel’s honesty and matter-of-fact tone in the face of inconceivable injustice are the source of its power. . . . Dazzling.” –Publishers Weekly
“Otsuka . . . demonstrates a breathtaking restraint and delicacy throughout this supple and devastating first novel .” –Booklist
“Spare yet poignant. . . . clear, elegant prose.” –Library Journal
“Heartbreaking. . . . A crystalline account.” –The Seattle Post-Intelligencer