Wednesday, April 28, 2010

When the Emperor Was Divine

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

This is almost a novella - only 144 pages. It begins in 1942 in Berkely, CA and ends in 1946 in Berkely, CA. In the years in between it takes place at Topaz, UT - the Japanese internment camp in the Utah desert.

The story is very matter of fact and succinct in it's way of communicating what one family did to prepare to leave their home and how they lived in the years following away from their home. After the war, as they return to a home that had been heavily vandalized and try to pick up where they left off, the tone of the narrative becomes a bit sad. In the end, after their father has returned, but is never again the same, the tone becomes bitter. The bitterness is understandable and almost desired at this point.

The narrative of the book covers several different situations of discrimination. It addresses life before and after incarceration. And finally it touches on torture and duress and how people will eventually agree to anything in hopes of changing their situation.

I enjoyed this because it was a powerful way to tell the story of how American families suddenly became enemy aliens by just being of Japanese decent. Then, after the war when they were no longer the enemy, they were still disenfranchised from the world where they had once belonged. If the story had been longer and more verbose, I don't think it would have had as much power behind the feelings it conveyed.

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