Monday, July 18, 2016
When the Emperor was Divine
Lexile = 810
Reviewers of this novel call it "spare" "lean" and "precise". It does have a simple, straightforward approach to a shameful chapter of American history.
Told from the points of view of each of the family members involved, this is the story of Japanese internment during World War II. Many students are surprised to find out that the US government "evacuated" all Americans of Japanese descent after the attack on Pearl Harbor. These families were moved inland, even to Utah, to avoid their spying for the enemy. Really? What Otsuka demonstrates clearly is that although this particular Japanese family has mementos of their cultural heritage, they are clearly American and are rather bewildered by the move.
Other novels and first hand accounts of this same subject that I have read previously tend to sugar coat the years these families spent in an American refugee camp. I have read of dances, school activities, and sports teams within the camps. Otsuka's "precise" fictional account highlights the perplexing and confusing times for the mother and her two children.
The final chapter confused me, I will admit. Won't give away too much, but the final word of the novel is given to the Father who has been sent to a separate camp away from his family. He is considered a dangerous spy by the US government.
When the Emperor was Divine is actually a pretty quick read, but it really has me thinking.