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When the Emperor Was Divineby Julie Otsuka
A breathtaking debut. Also a painter, Otsuka creates complex scenes and well-rounded characters with astonishing efficiency. Line by line her minimalist strokes disguise the massive canvas on which she's working: the internment of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans that began on the day after Pearl Harbor. As one Berkeley family is uprooted — a mother and her children head off to Utah while the father remains interned in New Mexico — questions of loyalty, identity, and suspicion arise. As pertinent today as ever.
Synopses & Reviews
Julie Otsukas commanding debut novel paints a portrait of the Japanese internment camps unlike any we have ever seen. With crystalline intensity and precision, Otsuka uses a single family to evoke the deracination—both physical and emotional—of a generation of Japanese Americans. In five chapters, each flawlessly executed from a different point of view—the mother receiving the order to evacuate; the daughter on the long train ride to the camp; the son in the desert encampment; the familys return to their home; and the bitter release of the father after more than four years in captivity—she has created a small tour de force, a novel of unrelenting economy and suppressed emotion. Spare, intimate, arrestingly understated, When the Emperor Was Divine is a haunting evocation of a family in wartime and an unmistakably resonant lesson for our times. It heralds the arrival of a singularly gifted new novelist.
From the Hardcover edition.
"Exceptional. . . . Otsuka skillfully dramatizes a world suddenly foreign. . . . [Her] incantatory, unsentimental prose is the book's greatest strength." The New Yorker
"A timely examination of mass hysteria in troubled times. . . . Otsuka combines interesting facts and tragic emotions with a steady, pragmatic hand." The Oregonian
"At once delicately poetic and unstintingly unsentimental." St. Petersburg Times
"Her 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 John Henry Days
About the Author
Julie Otsuka was born and raised in California. She is a graduate of Yale University and received her M.F.A. from Columbia. She lives in New York City.
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