Wednesday, February 29, 2012

When the Emperor was Divine

Book Review

When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka

I did not know this book existed. Not until I picked up Buddha in the Attic, the second novel from Otsuka.

It was on the back cover of that book that I learned about this book. And that blurb indicated that "Buddha" was a followup or follow-on or something book to "Emperor".

So, I looked it up on Wikipedia to try and figure out if I needed to read "Emperor" before reading "Buddha". I looked and searched and scoured.

I never did figure it out.

But I got "Emperor" anyways and read it first. Now, I will just have to request "Buddha" again and wait all over again.

Isn't there some bizzare saying about a virtue and patience?

When the Emperor was Divine

This is a novel about the Japanese internment after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and during World War II. It highlights a Japanese-American family and their life before, during, and after their internment.

The writing is very tight and condensed. Each conversation is a terse representation of what an actual conversation might have been. The settings and descriptions are brief, but carefully selected so that we get an adequate sense of the time and place.

All that terseness and briefness makes for a very quick read. But don't let that fool you. This is a novel to be savored. Read a bit, reread some, savor the words. I can appreciate the lack of fluff and superfluous words. The feelings and perceptions of the characters come through loud and clear.

"Brevity is the soul of wit..." Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2

Wit is what this novel has. Heart is what this novel has. Soul is a bit of a stretch.

It was interesting to see the hope in the characters at the beginning of their ordeal, but truly disheartening to see it dashed at the end. This is a lesson for all of us, no matter what our situation.

Things are never, ever the same as they were before. No matter what the circumstances. We all change, things change, situations change. To expect things to be the same as you experienced them some time in the past is just hope speaking.

Things are never the same.

I will never be the same for having to be gluten-free. If I can ever safely eat gluten again, I still will never be the same. I have learned too much and come too far.

Sometimes we just have to be sad that things aren't the same and then try to find the positive in the change.

I guess this book touched me. Let it touch you too.

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