Thursday, April 3, 2008

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

book 2 of 6 for the Novella Challenge

I really liked this book about a Japanese-American mother and her two children who leave their home to go to an internment camp during World War II (the father was taken from their home on the night of Pearl Harbor). We never learn their names throughout the book - a fitting metaphor for that "unnamed but-we-know-what-you-look-like enemy" that terrifies us so much that sometimes we do crazy things - like take everyone of a certain nationality and lock them up in barracks in Utah for three years. The sparse narration and elegant detail make this book a quick and engaging read. You get some sense for how endless and confusing life must have been for inmates of these American internment camps - as well as how hard it would be to come home to a place that is no longer home, once the war is over. Hard not only because of how many of their material possessions they lost, but their lost sense of space, their lost place in a community, and the mental anguish that, for some people, they may never overcome.

The only thing that felt forced in this book to me was the very end, the last few pages called "The Confession." The author opens up the idea of "the enemy among us" and writes the confession of an alleged "enemy alien." It felt a bit over the top and too in-my-face (very unlike the rest of the book). It's still worth reading though.

2 comments:

bethany said...

uuuuu! this is another one that I have been wanting to read! thanks for the review...awesome.

Anna said...

This sounds like an interesting book. I've linked to your review here on War Through the Generations.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

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