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When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

Innocent Enemies

In a terse, effective prose that is truly gripping, this lean novel delivers the story of a Japanese-American family’s ordeal in an internment camp during WWII.  After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japanese-Americans and immigrants living in the U.S. became enemy aliens.  They were ordered to leave their homes and lives behind as they were rounded up to live as prisoners in internment camps.  It didn’t matter that these people were innocent American citizens; their crime was being of Japanese descent during an ugly war.

In this novel, the lives of a Berkeley, California family is turned upside down.  The father is incarcerated on the evening of December 7, 1941.  Soon his wife and two kids are sent to the Topaz War Relocation Center with thousands of others in Utah.  There they are held captive in barracks for three and a half years. Their rights are stripped and their loyalty is tested.  After the war, evacuees are sent home to rebuild their existence in a hostile environment where they are no longer trusted or wanted as neighbors, employees, or friends.  But rebuilding the spirit is not always easy or even possible.

What a good book this was—a staggering reality check of the harsh effects of war, even on our own people, our fellow citizens.

For other perspectives of people’s lives during World War II, click on the following titles:

-Night by Elie Wiesel
-In Our Hearts We Were Giants by Yehuda Koren and Eliat Negev
-Address Unknown by Katherine Kressmann Taylor  (based on a true story)
-Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers

-Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
-City of Thieves by David Benioff
-The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows


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