Spare, incisive.... The mood of the novel tensely reflects the protagonists’ emotional state: calm surfaces above, turmoil just beneath.
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.
This exceptional first novel is about a Japanese family in Berkeley, California, during the Second World War.... The implicit questions about culpability resonate with particular power right now, but Otsuka's incantatory, unsentimental prose is the book's greatest strength. It turns our ideas of beauty on their head, as when the boy uneasily remembers a treasured glimpse of the horses he now eats: "They had long black tails and dark flowing manes and he had watched them galloping in the moonlight across the flat dusty plain and then for three nights in a row he had dreamed of them."
The novel’s voice is as hushed as a whisper.... An exquisite debut...potent, spare, crystalline.
This heartbreaking, bracingly unsentimental debut describes in poetic detail the travails of a Japanese family living in an internment camp during World War II, raising the specter of wartime injustice in bone-chilling fashion.... Events are viewed from...different perspectives [which] are defined by distinctive, lyrically simple observations. The novel's honesty and matter-of-fact tone in the face of inconceivable injustice are the source of its power.
Otsuka researched historical sources and her own grandparents' experiences as background for this spare yet poignant first novel about the ordeal of a Japanese family sent to an internment camp during World War II. Its perspective shifts among different family members as the story unfolds.... Otsuka's clear, elegant prose makes [her] themes accessible to a range of reading levels from young adult on. —Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA
Otsuka eloquently chronicles in five chapters, one from each family member, their reactions as they are removed from their friendly neighborhoods and thrust into a strange new world where they are now the enemy.... With precise detail, succinct but sensitive prose, and great emotional restraint, Otsuka's enlightening, deeply stirring, Alex Award-winning book will affect all readers.
Otsuka has created an intriguing story about Japanese internment during WW II. This powerful book is characterized by sparse, contained prose detailing the lives of a Japanese American family in California.... Each has invisible but lasting scars from their experience. When the Emperor Was Divine could easily be categorized as psychological fiction as well as historical fiction with its in-depth look at the minds of its characters and how each of them copes with their situation (ages 15 to adult). — Courtney Lewis
A carefully researched little novel...that's perfect down to the tiniest detail but doesn't stir the heart.... [T]he narrative remains stubbornly at the surface, almost like an informational flow, causing the reader duly to acknowledge these many wrongs done to this unjustly uprooted and now appallingly deprived American family—but never finding a way to go deeper....information trumps drama, and the heart is left out.
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