title: When the Emperor was Divine
author: Julie Otsuka
genre: Fiction, Japanese interment, WWII, prejudice
suggested by: Steph R.
dates read: August 19th – August 20th
review: 5 out of 5 stars
summary: During WWII the Japanese on the West coast were forced to move to internment camps in remote locations. This is a fictitious story of a family from Berkley, CA who go to the Utah camp to live in barracks for three years and five months. The father of the family has been imprisoned and accused of being disloyal to the US. Written mostly in the perspective of the son, none of their names are given and through his eyes, we see the harsh conditions they live in and the monotony of their daily captivity.
personal thoughts: My paternal grandparents were interned at Heart Mountain, in fact my dad’s two oldest siblings were born there. Given this, stories of the Japanese interment are very near to my heart. I think this was beautifully written (as much as a story of this nature can be), and the impersonal way she chose to talk about the characters had the effect of making them seem distant and foreign, the way I imagine the real interned individuals must have felt. My heart breaks that this is the way people were treated, the way my family was treated. And then when they returned home, many of them didn’t have anything to return to. Their homes were not theirs anymore, their belongings were often looted or destroyed, and they had a difficult time finding employment. I’m thankful that my grandparents were able to leave their belongings in the hands of trustworthy neighbors, but so many others were not so fortunate. And now, we think we’ve come so far, learned from our mistakes, but I’m not sure this is true. We live in a fallen world, with broken people, people who hold prejudices and who think that those people aren’t as good as they are. I can’t control the actions and thoughts of others, but I can do my best to never have a those people category for myself, and to treat everyone with respect. I hope you’ll do the same.
“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.” p. 53, 54
“When he thought of the world outside it was always six o’clock. A Wednesday or a Thursday. Dinnertime across America.” p. 66
“’I’ll put in the screws tomorrow,’ he’d said. This was a long time ago. This was months and months ago, when the air still smelled of trees and freshly cut grass and the roses were just beginning to bloom.” p. 90
“We heard a click and then the door swung open and she took off her hat and stepped into the foyer and after three years and five months we were suddenly, finally, home.” p. 108