When the Emperor Was Divine

When The Emperor Was Divine

By Julie Otsuka

I didn’t love the book ‘When the Emperor was Divine’, but it was worth my time to read. Some of the passages were beautifully written and tragically emotional but I closed the book wishing it had provided me with more.  The story is told through the eyes of multiple people within the same family as they are torn away from one another during the relocation of the American Japanese during WWII.  I hold a vivid memory of the mother killing her white dog and burying it under a tree in the back yard. I also picture two young children sitting on a train, gazing out the window at the desolate Utah landscape as they discuss their future and their father. The most disturbing image in my memory is of a distraught and beaten down father returning to a family with little joy in his eyes and few words to comfort.


Perhaps this time is difficult for me to stomach because I not convinced it wasn’t a blemish on our history. The story was vague about the details of the father’s experience in New Mexico but it was obviously horrific because of his disconnect when he returned home.  Being from Utah and living near Delta I heard of the internment camps often, I enjoyed reading a book with a setting so close to home. However, if I were to recommend a book on this subject I would steer readers towards The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet in which a taste of joy and happiness lingers after the book is closed.


Historical Value- 5

Emotional Value- 3

Entertainment Value- 2

Personal Character Value- 2

Age recommendation- 16+



"Mostly though, they waited. For the mail. For the news. For the bells. For breakfast and lunch and dinner. For one day to be over and the next day to begin."


"The night of his arrest, he asked me to go get him a glass of water. We'd just gone to bed and I was so tired. I was exhausted. So I told him to go get it himself. 'Next time I will,' he said, and then he rolled over and went right to sleep. Later, as they were taking him away, all I could think was, 'Now he'll always be thirsty.' Even now, in my dreams, he's still searching for water."


"But we never stopped believing that somewhere out there, in some stranger's backyard, our mother's rosebush was blossoming madly, wildly, pressing one perfect red flower after another out into the late afternoon light."


"Because the man who stood there before us was not our father. He was somebody else, a stranger who had been sent back in our father's place. That's not him, we said to our mother, That's not him, but our mother no longer seemed to hear us..."Did you...she said. "Every day," he replied. Then he got down on his knees and he took us into his arms..."


"Summer was a long hot dream."


"Every few days the letters arrived, tattered and torn, from Lordsburg, New Mexico. Sometimes entire sentences had been cut out with a razor blade by the censors and the letters did not make any sense. Sometimes they arrived in one piece, but with half of the words blacked out. Always, they were signed, "From Papa, With Love."


“His sister arriving home from school with her new jump rope trailing behind her on the sidewalk. "They let me turn the handle," she said, "but they wouldn't let me jump." She had cut the rope up into tiny pieces and tossed them into the ivy and sworn she would never jump rope again."





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