When the Emperor was Divine
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“Mesmerizing … [Otsuka has] lyric gifts and narrative poise, [a] heat-seeking eye for detail [and] effortless ability to empathize with her characters.”

    -– Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Julie Otsuka’s commanding debut novel paints a portrait of the Japanese American incarceration camps that is both a haunting evocation of a family in wartime and a resonant lesson for our times.  READ MORE

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Awards& Recognitions

Asian American Literary Award • Winner

American Library Association Alex Award • Winner

Children's Literature Association Phoenix Award • Winner

Booklist Editor's Choice for Young Adults • Winner

New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age • Winner

Orange Prize for Fiction • Longlist

Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award • Finalist

New York Times Notable Book

San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year

Selected for Common Reading at over 60 Colleges and Universities

Selected for Common Reading by over 35 Communities

Praise and Reviews

“[Otsuka’s] voice never falters, equally adept at capturing horrific necessity and accidental beauty. Her unsung prisoners of war contend with multiple front lines, and enemies who wear the faces of neighbors and friends. It only takes a few pages to join their cause, but by the time you finish this exceptional debut, you will recognize that their struggle has always been yours.”

-Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys

About This Book

 

Julie Otsuka’s commanding debut novel paints a portrait of the Japanese American incarceration camps that is both a haunting evocation of a family in wartime and a resonant lesson for our times.

On a sunny day in Berkeley, California, in 1942, a woman sees a sign in a post office window, returns to her home, and matter-of-factly begins to pack her family’s possessions. Like thousands of other Japanese Americans they have been reclassified, virtually overnight, as enemy aliens and are about to be uprooted from their home and sent to a dusty incarceration camp in the Utah desert.

In this lean and devastatingly evocative first novel, Julie Otsuka tells their story from five flawlessly realized points of view and conveys the exact emotional texture of their experience: the thin-walled barracks and barbed-wire fences, the omnipresent fear and loneliness, the unheralded feats of heroism. When the Emperor Was Divine is a work of enormous power that makes a shameful episode of our history as immediate as today’s headlines.

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Reader’s Guide

Teacher’s Guide

Common Reads & First-Year Experience Programs