National Endowment for the Arts - The Big Read
When the Emperor Was Divine

When the Emperor Was Divine

by Julie Otsuka

Mostly though, they waited. For the mail. For the news. For the bells. For breakfast and lunch and dinner. For one day to be over and the next day to begin.


Julie Otsuka. Copyright Robert Bessoir.

Julie Otsuka: Well, and the daughter she is right on the cusp of adolescence and I think she’s in a semi-rebellious phase and yet she is determined to live out her rebellious youth even if she happens to be in an internment camp; she’s a very feisty girl.

Maureen Howard: The girl—let's talk about shoes. The girl, at the beginning, has a new, nice pair of Mary Janes, the little old-fashioned buckle-across shoes that were usually patent leather. And after their time away, the mother and the children being sent away and returning, she's older. She looks around the neighborhood and says, "Oh! Patent leather shoes are still in style! Oh, there!" So that's the kind of thing that Julie Otsuka is able to do with detail. To make it important to the story, to the memory. And memory, what part does it play? What bits do we pick up about the past that are meaningful or inform us?

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