When the Emporer Was Divine
When the Emperor Was Divine looks at racial profiling from the side of the people who look like the "known" enemy. It is 1942, Berkeley, California. This parents in this unnamed family moved to the United States about 20 years earlier from Japan. They are now commanded to pack up a suitcase for each - mother and two children - leave their home, and join the others in a camp in Utah "for their safety" - a Japanese concentration camp. The father had been collected by the military while in his bedroom slippers the night of the Pearl Harbor attack.
This small, spare book has a lot of impact. This family was middle class affluent before World War II, accepted by their neighbors in a nice small home. The children had friends at school and played with all the kids in the neighborhood no matter what nationality. Then Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese military. Their life never returned to its pre-war state or comfort. This had been an accepted middle class family whose life was completely turned around due to racial profiling.
The tone of the book is matter-of-fact until the very end. The last section, entitled "Confession" is the father's confession of his part in all of Japan's sins against America. As the reader "listens" it is quickly understood that the father isn't confessing to any real crime, but any and everything just because he has been broken down.
Julie Otsuka doesn't offer any answers in When the Emperor Was Divine. But her snapshot of Japenese life in 1940's California is a powerful one.
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These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
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