NOTICE: (Updated March 5, 2010)

Beginning December 19, 2009, Books 'N Border Collies will be posting but only intermittently while I pursue personal goals. I plan to share some reading I'm doing, but there will be no reviews. I will, however, be sharing my exploration of vegetarian cooking and the cookbooks and websites I use to educate myself. I hope you enjoy it!


Friday, May 15, 2009


by Julie Otsuka

"Julie Otsuka's 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 family's 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." (From the book jacket, Borzoi Books edition)

This was another book I stumbled across while looking for War Through The Generations Challenge books, and which I read after I had already finished the challenge. I would not gush as much as the writer of the jacket blurb did, but this was a very good little book.

Like many others who forget that WWII consisted of more than Hitler and the Holocaust, I had no knowledge of Japanese internment camps beyond the fact that they had existed, and even that was a point I had forgotten about. The prose of When the Emperor was Divine is extremely sparse. The main characters lack names. Their lives before being sent to the camp are generalized. Provided only the bare necessities, their days and weeks and months pass slowly and monotonously as they wait for the end of the war from behind a wall of wire. Even after release from the camp, they are treated with suspicion. But all of that underscores the point that Japanese Americans were fused into one concept: enemy aliens with no distinction between them. Does any of this sound familiar? It should. And it should bother you.


joanna said...

How strange, I was just thinking yesterday that I'd like to read something about Japanese Americans during the war and here you are today with your review. :-)

Lezlie said...

Joanna ~ That *is* strange. I'm glad I could help you out though! :-)


Serena said...

this sounds like a great book to read about. It is a side of the war that is often forgotten...check out "Snow Falling on Cedars" by David Guterson.

There is a bit in this book about the internment camps and its impact on a Japanese family, though seen mostly in flashbacks if I remember correctly.

Lezlie said...

Thanks, Serena! Emperor made me curious to learn more about this topic, and that looks like a good book, too.


Tasha said...

I think I added this to my list a while back. I'll try to get to it sooner rather than later.

JoAnn said...

This sounded so familiar, I had to check my book journal! I read it with my bookclub in 2004 and rated it 7/10. I liked it, but didn't love it. I did love Snow Falling on Cedars!

Jo-Jo said...

I haven't heard of this book before, but by your review it sounds very good. Thanks for the heads up Lezlie.

Lezlie said...

Charley ~ I'll be curious to see your take on it.

JoAnn ~ I'm with you. Liked it, didn't love it. I'll have to make sure I get to Snow Falling eventually.

Jo-Jo ~ I've found some really cool stuff just browsing for challenges. It's fun to share them!


bermudaonion said...

I know nothing about the Japanese internment camps beyond their existence, so this book sounds interesting.

Ladytink_534 said...

It's like America tried to sweep the Japanese internment camps under the rug because when I was in middle school (?) they made a point of making sure the students learned of the Holocaust ("so we never forget and have history repeat itself") but I had to learn of what America did to the Japanese Americans on my own. To say I was shocked and disgusted is putting it mildly.

Lezlie said...

Bermudaonion ~ I'm rather clueless about them myself. I want to learn more.

Ladytink ~ Exactly!! And I think some of the things that are going on now are because we never learned a lesson it.


The Bookworm said...

This sounds like an intense read.
Its sad, I myself dont know much about the Japanese internment camps.

Teddy Rose said...

I'm so glad you liked it. It's on my TBR. It sounds like a must read for me. Great review!

Lezlie said...

Naida ~ I think it's a part of our U.S. History that a lot of us are missing.

Teddy Rose ~ Thanks!!


Ana S. said...

It did bother me. I loved this book. You're right, her writing is very sparse, but it really worked for me.

Lezlie said...

Nymeth ~ It took me a little while to warm up to it, but in the end the style was very effective. I don't think being more verbose would have had the same impact. I'm glad you liked it, too!


Anna said...

Hi Lezlie! We posted your review on War Through the Generations.

Diary of an Eccentric

Lezlie said...

Thanks, Anna!