When the Emperor Was Divine is about a Japanese American family in Berkeley, California during World War II. The story is told from five different points of view and chronicles the experiences of Japanese Americans caught up in the nightmare of the World War II internment camps.
About the Author:
Born in Palo Alto in 1962, Julie Otsuka lived in California until she left for college. She earned her BA from Yale University in 1984 and her MFA from Columbia University in 1999. Her current home is in New York City. When the Emperor Was Divine, her first novel, started as part of her thesis at Columbia. She began the first chapter with no idea that it would evolve into a whole novel. The subject material is very personal for Otsuka because her own family was interned during WWII. Her grandfather was arrested by the FBI the day after Pearl Harbor and her mother, then 11 years old, and her uncle and grandmother were sent to Topaz, Utah for the duration of the war. Otsuka says that rather than using her own family stories , she did a lot of research because her mother doesn’t have clear memories of camp. Otsuka says of her novel: “ I wanted to write a novel about real people...their experience is universal not only for Japanese Americans, but for people of any ethnic group. All throughout history people have been rounded up and sent away into exile. The predicament of the family in my novel...is that of ordinary people caught up in the extraordinary.”