Somehow I had never heard of Julie Otsuka’s novel When the Emperor Was Divine. It was, in a word, lovely.
Otsuka writes prose infused with poetry. Her unnamed protagonists, who are innocent victims caught in the historical net of Japanese American Internment in the United States during WWII, carry the reader through a tale of one of the darker chapters of US history in a way that makes it new to readers. Given the novel’s publication date in 2003, it also seems important that the story reminds readers of part of the US’s past that most of us agree is an embarrassing example of one of our greater failures at a time (post-9/11) when current events were unfolding in a series of frighteningly parallel events.
GOOD FOR: Those interested in US history, fans of poetic prose, and anyone who needs a history lesson packaged as a poignant story.
BAD FOR: I actually can’t think of anyone this book would be bad for (unless you really enjoy racial profiling, mass-imprisonment, and civil rights infringements…).