Off the Charts – when the emperor was divine (Julie Otsuka)

Ahoy there me mateys!  For those of ye who are new to me log, a word: though this log’s focus is on sci-fi, fantasy, and young adult, this Captain does have broader reading tastes.  Occasionally I will share some novels that I enjoyed that are off the charts (a non sci-fi, fantasy, or young adult novel), as it were.  So today I bring ye:

when the emperor was divine (Julie Otsuka)

I have no idea where I first heard about this novel but it it was kismet to have picked it up to read.  Ye see when I was perusing the news, I read a fascinating (and depressing) piece on the Japanese internment camps of WWII.  Later that same day, I picked up this novel thinking it would be a young adult novel but found instead a fantastic historical fiction book about a Japanese family in America and how WWII affected them.

Ye see this story was “based on Otsuka’s own family history: her grandfather was arrested by the FBI as a suspected spy for Japan the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, and her mother, uncle and grandmother spent three years in an internment camp in Topaz, Utah.” source.  Yet the novel is told from multi-person perspective of a single family who remain nameless in the novel.

I don’t know how to do this book justice – it was that good.  I found this novel to be evocative, lyrical, haunting, engaging, and heart wrenching.  I read it in one sitting and found meself avoiding picking up another book and pondering the ramifications in what I had read for a couple days before I could even begin to process the effects of this book on my being.  And yet I continue to fail at capturing its resonance despite this effort of putting me thoughts down.

This dark period in United States history was captured beautifully and soul-crushingly in this author’s work.  Especially in the details.  Small details helped me feel the horror of the family’s pain.  Images of slippers, the smell of horses in the racetrack stalls where the family was forced to live, a single rosebush.  The last chapter in particular was extremely powerful.

Words truly fail me.  But I recommend this one without a doubt.

Goodreads has this to say about the novel:

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. It heralds the arrival of a singularly gifted new novelist . . .

To visit the author’s website go to:

Julie Otsuka – Author

To buy the novel visit:

when the emperor was divine – Book

To add to Goodreads go to:

Yer Ports for Plunder List

4 thoughts on “Off the Charts – when the emperor was divine (Julie Otsuka)

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