Review: When the Emperor Was Divine

Julie Otsuka (2002)

With an economy of words, Otsuka tells an emotionally riveting tale of a family’s relocation to a Japanese internment camp in 1942. A nameless woman and her two children pack up their home in Berkeley California and are sent to the dry, dusty Utah desert with hundreds of other reclassified Japanese-Americans.

This slim volume packs an emotional punch. None of the characters are referred to by name, which adds to the sense of depersonalization and anonymity of their situation. And yet, this book is intensely personal. When the Emperor Was Divine breathes life into this chapter of American history with a story that’s painful to read, hard to put down, and difficult to forget. [*****]

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