Julia Otsuka   When the Emperor Was Divine  
Julia Otsuka  
Read an Interview with Julia Otsuka

Read an Excerpt from When the Emperor Was Divine

  In her first novel, When the Emperor Was Divine, Julie Otsuka chronicles the heartbreaking evacuation experience of an unnamed Japanese-American family: the mother struggling to keep her family together, the daughter on a train heading for camp, the son in desert wasteland of Topaz, the father detained in a New Mexico prison camp, the family's attempt to regain the dignity and hope of lost years. Though the book shifts effortlessly between these perspectives, the family's thoughts center around the missing father; like the divine Emperor forced into admitting his humanity, he remains a joyous, deified figure in their eyes until he returns from prison, a man suddenly aged and broken by defeat.

In stunningly spare prose that quietly underscores the raw anguish of its subject, Otsuka writes with a precision and fluidity that belongs to a writer of longer experience. Though easily the best novel about the internment experience, it has a universal arc in its haunting depiction of the failure of the American dream; as Colson Whitehead notes, "by the time you finish this exceptional debut, you will recognize that their struggle has always been yours." When the Emperor Was Divine is, quite simply, an unforgettable book by a writer of great talent.

In this issue of Bold Type, author Julie Otsuka discusses the Japanese-American experience, writing, and her forthcoming book tour and provides an excerpt from her poignant first novel, When the Emperor Was Divine.

-- Kelley Kawano
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  Photo credit: Jerry Bauer

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