Review and Critique of “When the Emperor was Divine” by Otsuka

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Reviewand Critique of “When the Emperor was Divine” by Otsuka

Theauthor of the book ‘When the Emperor was Divine` is Julie Otsuka.As an award-winning Japanese-American writer, she has written severalhistorical fiction books recounting the plight of Japanese, living inAmerica during the 2nd World War (Wilson 2). In as much as she didnot live through the Japanese internment period, her personalexperience reconnects with her mother who lived during the time.Julie was born in 1962 to parents of Japanese descent and has twobrothers. After completing her high school level, she pursued adegree in Arts and graduated in 1984 from Yale University. In 1999,she graduated with Masters in Fine Arts from Columbia University(Wilson 2).

JulieOtsuka wrote the novel ‘When the Emperor was Divine` with an aim ofreaching out the United States history learners. The history fictionwould help the learners have an idea of how it felt being Japaneseduring the 2nd World War and living in America (Park123).Otsuka elaborates the plight of the affected through a single familyof four. The family members are a father, a mother, a girl and a boy.The first chapter is written in the perspective of the woman, thesecond in the perspective of the girl, the third in the perspectiveof the boy, the fourth in the ‘we` perspective and the fifth andthe last is the father`s point of view and confession. The authordoes not reveal the names of the characters intentionally to showthat the family`s experiences were not unique. The unrevealedcharacters also symbolize that the family represents the plight ofmany. It also signifies the loss of Japanese identity in the UnitedStates (Davenport5).

Otsukaaims at enabling learners to identify with those who suffered duringthe World War two to understand the effects of the war(Park 123).A family is made to evacuate from their comfortable home to somewherein a desert. The climate is unfair to them, and they are treated likedetainees. Despite their loyalty and innocence they are treated likecriminals, queue for foods, get harassed by the people they pass byon their way to the internment camp(Davenport 5).On returning to their home three years later, they find that thehouse has been scandalized. Despite the sigh of relief to get backhome, they begin from zero, and they do not sleep comfortably as theyare in fear of someone shooting at them (Davenport5).When the woman goes to seek a job she does not get one since theemployers fear to scare other employees. So she ends up working forothers (Wilson 10). The children are segregated in school and are notfree to participate as they could draw attention to themselves.

Otsukagets a bit insensitive when in the first chapter she elaborates aboutthe killing of the white dog (Otsuka 12). The killing is notnecessary for as much as the family wants to discard the family pets.There is better way of doing that or even not mentioning it at all.For the people sensitive to the animals the killing evokes a feelingof animosity on the character and the writer as well. The tool usedfor the murder of the dog also instills a lot of the pain on behalfof the animal to the reader.

Otsukauses a lot of narration of the actions to tell the story. Her artnature makes her get very sensitive to fine details that make thereader identify with the situation explained (Wilson 2). Thenarration gives details of each and every event. However, it makesthe novel boring to some extent such that the book recollects in thelast chapter. The use of some details and the actions does not relateto the intention of the novel and hence, gives a disconnection(Rosenwasser and Jill 63). At a point when the author explains theactions of the children, there is some interference with thesuffering that should be intensified by all characters. However, theuse of these actions may show the norm with which the affected takelife since they have no power to change things (Otsuka 98-100). Infact, they have no choice but to live one day at a time since they donot know how long they have to live that way.

Inthe third chapter, the perception of the boy gives details about thefather (Otsuka 90). The author connects the child’s thinking withthe fate. She is very much aware of her characters, and that givesthe reader some confidence in the content. However, the childperceptive breaks the connection and for many readers the perceptiveis shallow. The wish that the father would have worn shoes before heleft has no connection with a better life (Otsuka 85). Therefore,despite the fact that the boy seems to take note of very manydetails, it requires a keen look at the details for the reader tounderstand the chapter without sentimental judgment of the child`sway of looking at things. The child wishes that life would have beendifferent and that he would not have been a victim anyway. He doesnot realize any matter how he tries to behave like the Americans theancestry does not change. However, it was a way for Otsuka to showthe helplessness of the Japanese during that period (Wilson 12). Thattheir efforts to demonstrate their innocence and to behave like theAmericans does not bear fruits.

Thekeen use of details in the description of the actions of the familymembers shows us the innocent of the interned Japanese families. Whenthe mother is packing, we realize that the boy`s room looks like anyother place of an American boy child (Otsuka 5). It does not by anyway reflect the Japanese ancestry. Apart from the wedding presentsthey had gotten from Japan fifteen years ago, the family lives in anAmerican lifestyle (Otsuka 8). Therefore, the style is clear andefficient in getting the message home as intended by the author.Otsuka also uses dialogue to express what is in the minds of thecharacters. In most cases, the characters hardly think about theirfate. The idea of thinking about their fate is quickly brushed off.When the boy asks the woman when they are likely to go home, thewoman dismisses it since she has no idea and does not want to showdespair to the child.

TheChinese culture cannot identify one on one to Otsuka`s narration.However, to a United States history learner, the aspect or racism isvivid in the book. A student understands better about the events ofthe period. Though the writer is biased by writing from a Japaneseperspective, the plight reflects the most affected side. However, thequestion still stirs in the mind of the readers whether the UnitedStates has gotten over the racism and if there would be a repeat ofevents in the case of a similar event. The novel also helps peoplefrom other places to be warned against racism as some of the affectedare innocent. An understanding of what the victims undergo out oftheir color should make others appreciate people from all raceswithout discrimination (Davenport5).

Thereturn and the confession of the Father help understand the plight ofthe people who were detained and treated as suspects. The old andunrecognizable bent man returns to give a testimony of the sufferingafter the arrest (Otsuka 132). His condition reflects that the thingswill not be the same again. Also the fact that the flower garden isgone shows that the real life will not be back again (Otsuka 138).The old father among other affected people finds it hard to leavebehind their experiences, and the brainwash after the arrest makesthem own up the mistake and regret it ever happened.

Theauthor, Otsuka, has accomplished her intentions as the novel is shortbut evokes a lot of emotional attachment and weight. The readablenovel elaborates the plight of Japanese in a minuscule and readablevolume to the learners and anyone else interested in the history. Thechoice of three chapters, chapter one, three and five help cut acrossthe book and the style of the writer. The author speaks to the heartsand the mind of the reader through the work (Wilson 35). To thereader, the fiction looks so real and elaborative such that there isyearning for more. The history of the effects of the Japanese Pearlattack is narrowed down to a family experience. However, there is thefactual, chronological countdown of the events and the timing. Thestory explains what took place when the event occurred, and theturnout of the incident. The way people were detained since they wereassociated with the attack and the way families were transported tointernment camps and the adversity they faced (Wilson 22). Throughthe narration of the father the reader also gets to know whathappened to the arrested suspects.

Anyreader who has genuine interests of understanding the segregation ofthe Japanese Americans on racial terms in the period of the war willfind this book insightful. The book will help them get a betterinsight on the most affected population after the Japanese attack onthe Pearl Harbor that prompted the Americans to join in the SecondWorld War (Wilson 5).

Inconclusion, Otsuka gives a clear and accurate explanation of theplight of the Japanese Americans during and after the Second WorldWar (Park123).In the last chapter, Otsuka conveys the accusations of the Japanesein a very articulate way through the confessions of the father. Thefather among other detainees was scared, locked in a small room andhad no option rather than to confess that they were guilty even whenhe knew he was very innocent (Davenport5).They were accused of being spies and directing the enemies where toattack (Park123).The theme of racism is very evident through the novel. The use ofcharacter-focus helps in personalizing the occurrences and seeingthem from a unique angle. That way a reader understands andidentifies with the character, their feelings, and experiences.


Davenport,John C. TheInternment of Japanese Americans During World War Ii: Detention ofAmerican Citizens.New York: Infobase Pub, 2010. Print.

Rosenwasser,David, and Jill Stephen. WritingAnalytically. ,2015. Print.

Otsuka,Julie. Whenthe Emperor Was Divine.London: Fig Tree, 2013. Print.

Park,Young. TheDark Side: Immigrants, Racism, and the American Way.2012. The Web, Retrieved 11th, December 2015

Wilson,Judith M. JulieOtsuka`s When the Emperor Was Divine.SanFrancisco:Hyperink, 2012,Print

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