Sunday, February 17, 2013

When The Emperor Was Divine

Title:  When The Emperor Was Divine
Author:  Julie Otsuka
Publication Information:  Borzoi Book, Alfred A. Knopf, Random House Inc. 2002. 144 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book bases on how much I enjoyed Julie Otsuka's book The Buddha in the Attic.

Favorite Quote:  "He said he was fine. Everything was fine. He was sure they would see each other one day soon. Be good to your mother, he wrote. Be patient. And remember, it's better to bend than break."

When The Emperor Was Divine is the story of the Japanese in the United States during World War II.  It is the story of one family, but written with no names perhaps to imply a universality of experience. A more recent book from Julie Otsuka -  The Buddha in the Attic - tells the story of the Japanese picture brides up until World War II. This story, although written much earlier, picks up the story at that point.

It is the story of one family. The father has been arrested and detained as an "enemy." The family - mother, daughter, and son - are sent to an internment camp.

I have mixed feelings about this book. Some parts - especially as the father narrates - spoke to me and created an emotional connection. Other parts - mostly narrated by the little boy - I had a hard time finding a connection too. The entire book is written with no names, and that in and of itself creates a detachment. Yet, I found the emotion in certain sections, and not in others.

Perhaps, my reaction is also influenced by the fact that I very recently read The Buddha in the Attic, and absolutely loved it. That book is written entirely in third person plural. Yet, that consistency of tone achieves to create one character out of the entire group of women. This book does not successfully accomplish that.

One idea that really struck me is the quote above. This is a letter from the father to the little boy in which he advises that "it's better to bend than break." Bend not Break is the title of a memoir I read recently. I found it intriguing to find almost the exact words in this book.

Of course, the lingering question in my mind about this period in history is that this happened in the United States, and have we changed enough to ensure that such a violation of rights and liberties never happens here again?

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