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"When the Emperor Was Divine" with Julie

Immediately following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the American government began to arrest prominent Japanese-Americans in communities throughout California. Most of those seized in the days following the attack were businessmen and other community leaders, and many had been under surveillance for almost a year. When the United States extended World War II into the Pacific, the scope of the country’s security agencies moved beyond businessmen and local officials. Ordinary citizens were perceived as threats to the country, and evacuation notices were delivered to anyone who was 1/16th Japanese and above. They were given no more than one or two days to arrange their affairs before being relocated to internment camps in the West. Eventually, some 120,000 people were forced into the camps, two-thirds of whom were American citizens.

Julie Otsuka’s debut novel, “When the Emperor was Divine,’ tells the story of a family undergoing the ordeal of internment. Julie, a graduate of Yale University who received her Master’s degree at Columbia University, lets each of the four members of the family offer their perspective on the events befalling them. Their story, which Julie based on the experiences of her parents and grandparents, is narrated with spare and graceful prose which lends poignancy and force to a seldom-mentioned piece of our nation’s history.

Julie Otsuka

“When the Emperor Was Divine” (Knopf, 2002; $18)