Eyes of the Emperor
Eddie Okubo is a 16-year-old Japanese-American living in Hawaii in 1941. His father had emigrated from Japan and is now a respected boat builder. That summer anti-Japanese sentiment is present but not overt. Eddie's best friends, Chik and Cobra, are two years older than him and had been drafted in the Army. Eddie has graduated from school early. Now he wants to lie about his age and join the Army. too.
After a new boat his father is ready to deliver is burned, Eddie carries through his plan. On the morning of December 7, Eddie is home on leave overlooking Pearl Harbor. He hears the planes and sees the attack. He heads back to to his camp to serve his country. But now he and his friends are suddenly looked at differently. They're Japanese, aren't they. Never mind that Eddie will tell anyone that he's American with a Japanese background. Even when the Japanese unit is shipped off of Hawaii they still aren't trusted.
Having read Hawaii earlier this year, I had already been reminded recently of the problems the Japanese Americans had in the 1940's. I knew the Hawaiian Japanese unit had a lot of problems because of their heritage.
This novel is a fictionalized version of some of the events of their training before they were sent to Europe. There was a program that was new to me and now, in hindsight, appalling. Yet I understand how paranoid people were at the time. That same paranoia swept this country after 9/11. There was an episode of West Wing where Leo verbally attacked an employee of Middle Eastern heritage because of the way he looked. Leo apologized once he realized what he did. I hope someone apologized to those men for some of the treatment they received.
This book is written for the Tween group (middle school).It is easy to follow and should pull in anyone in that age group. Graham Salisbury has written a poignant story in a calm voice. Eddie tells it first person, so the reader experiences the events as Eddie does. The title, Eyes of the Emperor, refers to the Japanese appearance. They are ostracized because they look like the Emperor of Japan.
Salisbury's novel is a story that should appeal to anyone interested either in World War II history, the treatment of the Japanese during the 1940's, or cultural racism. All of us identify with groups. Visual cues are one easy way for us to determine "us vs them". Unfortunately, there are times, such as appear in this book, when "us" can look like and be mistaken for "them".
This is a good book for any age group. Salisbury's message in Eyes of the Emperor is applicable today as it would have been at the end of World War II.
|You might also like:
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
Book Rating System