Shelf Control #246: When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

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Title: When the Emperor Was Divine
Author: Julie Otsuka
Published: 2002
Length: 144 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

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 internment 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.

How and when I got it:

I bought a used copy about 2 – 3 years ago.

Why I want to read it:

This book was a required summer reading assignment for my son right before his junior year of high school. No big surprise — he didn’t end up reading it. (I don’t think he’s clear on the meaning of “required”.) But once we had a copy in the house, I knew I’d need to read it eventually.

I’ve always been interested in learning more about the horrific treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII. I’ve read both historical and fictional accounts of the experiences of those sent to the internment camps. I know When the Emperor Was Divine is highly rated, although I don’t know anyone directly who’s read it.

I’m glad to have stumbled across our copy while looking for a Shelf Control book this week! I’m going to try to make it a priority in 2021.

Have you read this book? Would you want to?

Please share your thoughts!


Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!