When the Emperor Was Divine
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 16 Apr 2014
I would like to admit that I had only picked up the fictional novel When the Emperor Was Divine because nothing in the history category of my library's audio book collection interested me a few nights ago, so I thought I would venture into historical fiction as a diversion. Told through the viewpoint of a Japanese-American family of four, the book began with the mother finding out about the infamous Executive Order 9066 via a notice in a post office window. As the family packed for and travelled to the internment camp in the southwestern region of the United States, I learned more about each member of the family. The father had already been taken away by the Federal Bureau of Investigation shortly after the outbreak of the Pacific War. The mother making sure to purchase a large bottle of face cream before entering the internment camp. The children read National Geographic magazine and learned cursive writing just like any typical innocent American children, yet they were mature enough to understand the motives behind the question "are you a Chink or a Jap?". While the stories of the mother and the children were told in a very unemotional manner (the episode involving the casualness in dealing with the white dog haunted me), the final chapter exploded with anger of the oppressed with the father's "confession", especially impactful because of the change in style and especially insightful because of the common belief that the Americans were the "good guys" in WW2. As a history enthusiast, the author's jumbling in the chronology of events was a bit troublesome; the declaration of "I have returned" and the mention of Peleliu both seemed to have been a bit early, for example. Nevertheless, it detracted nothing from the story, and in fact, perhaps this jumbling reflected this typical American family better: How many of us could sort out of order of events of the ongoing war in Afghanistan, for example? Through later research, I found out that the author partly and loosely based the stories in this novel on the experiences of her mother, which was revealing.
The audio book was read by Elaina Erika Davis. She did a wonderful job with the reading and the voice acting.
Although a work of fiction, When the Emperor Was Divine presented one historical viewpoint of the collective Japanese-American population, loyal yet distrusted by their fellow countrymen. Many great non-fiction books could be found on the Japanese internment in the United States during WW2, but this particular book would have its own unique place among books of this topic.
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945