Book 37: When the Emperor was Divine by Julia Otsuka

When the Emperor was Divine by Julia Otsuka is a fictional account of one family’s experience with the forced internment of Japanese and Japanese-Americans during World War II. This very short book (less than 150 pages) packs an emotional punch, as Otsuka changes the narrator, beginning with the mother, then the teenaged daughter, then the young son, and finally and very briefly, the father. Each has a very different perspective of the situation, though all are bleak.

This is an American history lesson without being written by an old white man (like most textbooks and history books). The toll the internment takes on the family is psychological, emotional, and physical…and the reader feels every emotion. Except for hate. In fact, there is no hate or anger in this novel, which I find to be an honest portrayal of Japanese people and their culture. You need look no further than the tsunami of 2011, and how they reacted to that. They could have looted, fought, and hurt each other; but instead they helped their neighbors, strangers, and stood in line patiently to get food, medical assistance, or resources. The Japanese are a humble and peaceful culture and this book really proves that.

I will recommend this book for the rest of my life. It is a wonderfully written history lesson, perfect for any age.

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