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When the Emperor Was Divine

Book Cover for When the Emperor Was Divine

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

Julie Otsuka’s quietly disturbing novel opens with a woman reading a sign in a post office window. It is Berkeley, California, the spring of 1942. Pearl Harbor has been attacked, the war is on, and though the precise message on the sign is not revealed, its impact on the woman who reads it is immediate and profound. It is, in many ways she cannot yet foresee, a sign of things to come. She readies herself and her two young children for a journey that will take them to the high desert plains of Utah and into a world that will shatter their illusions forever. They travel by train and gradually the reader discovers that all on board are Japanese American, that the shades must be pulled down at night so as not to invite rock-throwing, and that their destination is an internment camp where they will be imprisoned “for their own safety” until the war is over. With stark clarity and an unflinching gaze, Otsuka explores the inner lives of her main characters—the mother, daughter, and son—as they struggle to understand their fate and long for the father whom they have not seen since he was whisked away, in slippers and handcuffs, on the evening of Pearl Harbor. Moving between dreams, memories, and sharply emblematic moments, When the Emperor Was Divine reveals the dark underside of a period in American history that, until now, has been left largely unexplored in American fiction. (Random House)

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Cornell University Library

In support of the 2013 New Student Reading Project featuring the book When The Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka, the Cornell University Library has created a guide to complement the Project’s web site. This guide provides all who have read the book links to a vast amount of resources to help all expand on the many themes found in Otsuka’s book. These materials stretch across multiple disciplines, in various formats (i.e. print, video, and electronic). The guide can be found at:

Within the guide there is an overview of the Cornell University Library and the various services and resources it provides.