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25 Local Warehouse Literature- A to Z
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When the Emperor Was Divine


When the Emperor Was Divine Cover



Reading Group Guide

“Mesmerizing. . . . [Otsuka has] lyric gifts and narrative poise, [a] heat-seeking eye for detail [and] effortless ability to empathize with her characters.”

The New York Times


The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s reading of Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine. We hope they will provide fruitful ways of thinking and talking about a book that brilliantly explores the experience of Japanese Americans during World War II.

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Average customer rating based on 4 comments:

bshinn, January 5, 2012 (view all comments by bshinn)
This short book brings immediacy to the internment of Japanese during World War II. It centers on one family and the impact this internment had on their lives over the years. It is a very powerful portrayal of how national policy impacts individuals. I highly recommend this short book.
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wabijsabi, September 19, 2011 (view all comments by wabijsabi)
Understated but powerful, this novel leaves you wanting to read more by Julie Otsuka. "When the Emperor Was Divine" is a great evocation of a place and a time.
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hans1247, December 30, 2009 (view all comments by hans1247)
This is a short, beautiful and moving read. It is an amazing first novel too! I had to read it for a class on multiculturalism in the United States and I am so grateful for that as I may not have discovered the book on my own. This tale of a Japanese-American family succumbing to the internment camps and the after life is a must read.
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Product Details

Otsuka, Julie
Anchor Books
New York
World war, 1939-1945
Historical - General
Historical fiction
Japanese Americans
Concentration camps
Domestic fiction
Japanese American families
Concentration camp inmates
World War, 19
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
fiction;wwii;historical fiction;california;japanese americans;japanese internment;internment camps;japan;internment;war;utah;japanese;family;historical;novel;history;concentration camps;racism;literature;america;contemporary fiction;contemporary;japanese
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
October 14, 2003
Grade Level:
12 x 9 x 5 in 9.8031 lb

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Related Subjects

Featured Titles » Literature
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

When the Emperor Was Divine Used Trade Paper
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Product details 160 pages Anchor - English 9780385721813 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Shockingly brilliant....[I]t will make you gasp....Undoubtedly one of the most effective, memorable books to deal with the internment crisis....The maturity of Otsuka's...prose is astonishing."
"Review" by , "The novel's voice is as hushed as a whisper....An exquisite debut...potent, spare, crystalline."
"Review" by , "[T]he narrative remains stubbornly at the surface...never finding a way to go deeper, to a place where the attention will be held rigid and the heart seized. Earnestly done, and correctly, but information trumps drama, and the heart is left out."
"Review" by , "Heartbreaking, bracingly unsentimental....[R]ais[es] the specter of wartime injustice in bone-chilling fashion....The novel's honesty and matter-of-fact tone in the face of inconceivable injustice are the source of its power....Dazzling."
"Review" by , "At once delicately poetic and unstintingly unsentimental."
"Review" by , "Prose so cool and precise that it's impossible not to believe what [Otsuka] tells us or to see clearly what she wants us to see....A gem of a book and one of the most vivid history lessons you'll ever learn."
"Review" by , "Otsuka...demonstrates a breathtaking restraint and delicacy throughout this supple and devastating first novel."
"Review" by , "The novel's themes of freedom and banishment are especially important as we see civil liberties threatened during the current war on terrorism. Otsuka's clear, elegant prose makes these themes accessible....Highly recommended."
"Synopsis" by , The debut novel from the PEN/Faulkner Award Winning Author of The Buddha in the Attic

On a sunny day in Berkeley, California, in 1942, a woman sees a sign in a post office window, returns to her home, and matter-of-factly begins to pack her family's possessions. Like thousands of other Japanese Americans they have been reclassified, virtually overnight, as enemy aliens and are about to be uprooted from their home and sent to a dusty internment camp in the Utah desert.

In this lean and devastatingly evocative first novel, Julie Otsuka tells their story from five flawlessly realized points of view and conveys the exact emotional texture of their experience: the thin-walled barracks and barbed-wire fences, the omnipresent fear and loneliness, the unheralded feats of heroism. When the Emperor Was Divine is a work of enormous power that makes a shameful episode of our history as immediate as today's headlines.

"Synopsis" by , 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.

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