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Extended Audio Sample When the Emperor Was Divine Audiobook, by Julie Otsuka Click for printable size audiobook cover
3.83 out of 53.83 out of 53.83 out of 53.83 out of 53.83 out of 5 3.83 (36 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Julie Otsuka Narrator: Elaina Erika Davis Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: October 2003 ISBN: 9780739307922
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Julie Otsuka’s commanding debut novel paints a portrait of the Japanese internment camps unlike any we have ever seen. With crystalline intensity and precision, Otsuka uses a single family to evoke the deracination—both physical and emotional—of a generation of Japanese Americans. In five chapters, each flawlessly executed from a different point of view—the mother receiving the order to evacuate; the daughter on the long train ride to the camp; the son in the desert encampment; the family’s return to their home; and the bitter release of the father after more than four years in captivity—she has created a small tour de force, a novel of unrelenting economy and suppressed emotion. Spare, intimate, arrestingly understated, When the Emperor Was Divine is a haunting evocation of a family in wartime and an unmistakably resonant lesson for our times. It heralds the arrival of a singularly gifted new novelist.

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Quotes & Awards

  • A timely examination of mass hysteria in troubled times. . . . Otsuka combines interesting facts and tragic emotions with a steady, pragmatic hand. The Oregonian
  • Prose so cool and precise that it’s impossible not to believe what [Otsuka] tells us or to see clearly what she wants us to see. . . . A gem of a book and one of the most vivid history lessons you’ll ever learn. USA Today
  • With a matter-of-fact brilliance, and a poise as prominent in the protagonist as it is in the writing, When the Emperor Was Divine is a novel about loyalty, about identity, and about being other in America during uncertain times. Nathan Englander, author of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges
  • Shockingly brilliant. . . . it will make you gasp . . . Undoubtedly one of the most effective, memorable books to deal with the internment crisis . . . The maturity of Otsuka’s. . . prose is astonishing. The Bloomsbury Review
  • “The novel’s voice is as hushed as a whisper. . . . An exquisite debut. . . potent, spare, crystalline. O, The Oprah Magazine
  • At once delicately poetic and unstintingly unsentimental. St. Petersburg Times
  • Heartbreaking, bracingly unsentimental. . . .rais[es] the specter of wartime injustice in bone-chilling fashion. . . . The novel’s honesty and matter-of-fact tone in the face of inconceivable injustice are the source of its power. . . . Dazzling. Publishers Weekly
  • Otsuka . . . demonstrates a breathtaking restraint and delicacy throughout this supple and devastating first novel . Booklist
  • Spare yet poignant. . . . clear, elegant prose. Library Journal
  • Her voice never falters, equally adept at capturing horrific necessity and accidental beauty. Her unsung prisoners of war contend with multiple front lines, and enemies who wear the faces of neighbors and friends. It only takes a few pages to join their cause, but by the time you finish this exceptional debut, you will recognize that their struggle has always been yours. Colson Whitehead, author of John Henry Days
  • Heartbreaking. . . . A crystalline account. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
  • “Exceptional…Otsuka skillfully dramatizes a world suddenly foreign…[Her] incantatory, unsentimental prose is the book’s greatest strength.”

    New Yorker

  • Exceptional. . . . Otsuka skillfully dramatizes a world suddenly foreign. . . . [Her] incantatory, unsentimental prose is the book’s greatest strength. The New Yorker
  • Spare, incisive. . . . The mood of the novel tensely reflects the protagonists’ emotional state: calm surfaces above, turmoil just beneath. Boston Globe
  • “Spare, incisive…The mood of the novel tensely reflects the protagonists’ emotional state: calm surfaces above, turmoil just beneath.”

    Boston Globe

  • “A timely examination of mass hysteria in troubled times…Otsuka combines interesting facts and tragic emotions with a steady, pragmatic hand.”

    Oregonian

  • “An exquisite debut…Potent, spare, crystalline.”

    O, The Oprah Magazine

  • “Prose so cool and precise that it’s impossible not to believe what [Otsuka] tells us or to see clearly what she wants us to see…A gem of a book and one of the most vivid history lessons you’ll ever learn.”

    USA Today

  • “At once delicately poetic and unstintingly unsentimental.”

    St. Petersburg Times

  • “Shockingly brilliant…It will make you gasp…Undoubtedly one of the most effective, memorable books to deal with the internment crisis…The maturity of Otsuka’s…prose is astonishing.”

    Bloomsbury Review

  • “Heartbreaking, bracingly unsentimental…Rais[es] the specter of wartime injustice in bone-chilling fashion…The novel’s honesty and matter-of-fact tone in the face of inconceivable injustice are the source of its power…Dazzling.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Otsuka…demonstrates a breathtaking restraint and delicacy throughout this supple and devastating first novel.”

    Booklist

  • Runner-up for the 2002 Barnes & Noble Discover Award
  • One of the 2002 New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books for Fiction
  • Winner of a 2003 YALSA Alex Award
  • Winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Katie | 2/16/2014

    " Chosen for the one book, one community read for Loudoun County Public Libraries, this became the chosen novel for the staff book club. It was super short: I read it on a plane ride from Omaha to Dallas. I really liked the style of the book: no character names for the Japanese, a few scenes to give a glimpse and understand the shame that the characters felt. I wish that there had been more though because I did not feel invested in the characters; I just hate that the camps existed. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Phoebe Mogarei | 2/12/2014

    " Beautiful writing, understated and far from dramatic, which made that much more of an effect. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jennifer Carole | 2/7/2014

    " Really good. Historical fiction. Fast read. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Stephanie A. | 2/6/2014

    " My brother had to read this for a high school English class, so I tackled the same challenge. It's surprisingly pretty writing, if you can get past all the burning and pet killing. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Borax | 2/1/2014

    " Another great, little book I read this year. This one went to the top of my list for IB small books. It's a wonderful piece of historical fiction, looking at the Japanese internment camps. Beyond that there is great symbolism throughout...the students will really get a lot of analytical meat out of the color white, the roaming horses, and the murdered dog. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Charity | 1/28/2014

    " When the Emperor Was Divine is a cool book to me because it has Utah history. A Japanese American family during WWII was forced to move to Delta, Utah. Their father was taken in the beginning of the book, accused of being a spy for the Japanese. I like seeing this side of WWII. There are so many innocent victims in war. This is a sad story among millions. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cindi | 1/16/2014

    " Quick, but extremely enjoyable read about the internment of a Japanese family during WWII. Perspective through the eyes of different characters. Tons of history in a brief, well-written book. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Saira | 1/15/2014

    " Poetic and vivid. A story of the nameless sacrificed to the "common good." "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Axlerlc | 1/10/2014

    " lovely writing style. Informative, loved the strength of the mother. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Emalia Tillotson | 1/5/2014

    " interesting short read. it was good to understand a different person's point of view & see the world through their eyes. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Laura | 12/28/2013

    " Beautifully written, spare novel about Japanese internment during WW2, told from multiple points of view. Short but powerful novel, with many heartbreaking moments.... "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Maura | 12/26/2013

    " about a Japanese-American family during WWII being separated from each other and put in detention camps. Not my usual choice of fiction, but well done. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Patricia | 12/10/2013

    " An incitefull little book with a last chapter that brought it all home for me. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Drew | 11/2/2013

    " This was a quick read but packed with emotion. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Ruth Estrada | 8/4/2013

    " A very quick read. I liked the matter of fact tone of the book. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kelly L. | 6/28/2013

    " A book I needed to read for school for the transcultural nursing component of our curriculum. I really liked this book. It was written from the points of view of each member of a Japanese-American family during WWII after being sent to an internment camp in Utah by the US government. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Michael | 2/19/2013

    " Well-written, touching, and revealing. By referring to the main characters simply as the mother, boy, girl, father, Julie Otsuka tells the story of the internment and its effects on Japanese-Americans in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and WWII. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Malissa | 8/10/2012

    " I enjoy reading about this time period. This was a short powerful book. Otsuka can say a lot in very little space but I didn't think it was deep enough. It left me wanting. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Lizabeth | 6/4/2012

    " Beautifully written. The savaging of a family by the actions the US took to protect themselves from the "enemy". The Japanese internment camps traumatized their occupants. They eventually returned to their "homes" to find themselves aliens. Sad period in our history. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Krystal | 5/25/2012

    " Thoroughly enjoyed this book. As with Buddha in the Attic, I was really left wanting more but was interested and engaged the entire time. Really fast read. Can't wait to see more of her work. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Genevieve | 5/7/2012

    " It is an interesting little book about how discrimination during WWII affected one Japanese family in the United States. It was simple yet powerful. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Carlee | 8/18/2011

    " An awesome book, highly recommend "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Christi | 8/4/2011

    " So far I have really enjoyed this book. The point of view of the children in the internment camp is interesting. I have read a lot of books about the Japanese internment and I think this is one of the better ones. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Elizabeth | 5/23/2011

    " loved the point of view from Janapese stand during ww2. Great writing and very poignant "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Lorrie | 5/20/2011

    " This short novel with it's views of the Japanese internment during the 2nd World War from the perspective of 4 family member is thought provoking. I highly recommend it. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Tfalcone | 5/11/2011

    " Good, but I liked Corner of Bitter and Sweet better. Sad what happens in war times, even to civilians. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Nicki | 4/18/2011

    " this book was beautiful. to say more would diminish the simplicity of this tale which described a sad moment in the human experience. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Mary | 4/17/2011

    " This is a very short read.

    This book explores the thoughts and feelings of members of one Japanese family before, during, and after they've been shipped off to a desert camp during WW2.

    "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Axlerlc | 4/14/2011

    " lovely writing style. Informative, loved the strength of the mother. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Carrie | 4/4/2011

    " I loved the change of perspective from the wives to the children. I think this would pair nicely with "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" to get a glimpse of the Japanese experience during WWII "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jill | 3/17/2011

    " Interesting, learned some new things, but never really connected with any of the characters. I liked the story being told by the different characters , yet it still seemed a little disjointed to me. And the last section seemed a little forced. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Marilyn | 3/17/2011

    " Interesting topic. Quick read. However, it left me cold. The book is written in short, simple sentences and for me, it never really got to the heart of the characters. The author seemed to have a distant, almost clinical approach to what should have been a deeply moving story. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Annie | 3/15/2011

    " it was better than i thought "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Susan | 3/15/2011

    " Fascinating story about Japanese POW camp. Really liked it. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Rachel | 3/6/2011

    " Julia Otsuka seamlessly creates both a personal story and one of anonymity within the context of When the Emperor Was Divine. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Catherine | 3/5/2011

    " Brief, sparely written, moving account of a Japanese American family before, during, and after the internment camps. "

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About the Author
Author Julie OtsukaJulie Otsuka was born and raised in California. She is a graduate of Yale University and received her M.F.A. from Columbia. She lives in New York City.
About the Narrator

Elaina Erika Davis has appeared in several Off-Broadway productions, including Red, Secret History of the Lower Eastside, and Troilus & Cressida, as well as on numerous television series, including The Guiding Light, All My Children, and Law & Order. She has narrated such notable audio books as Memoirs of a Geisha and Kira-Kira