Waukesha Reads featured When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka as our 2020 NEA Big Read title! (Click HERE for the NEA’s Reader Resources.)
A day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Julie Otsuka’s grandfather was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on suspicion of being a Japanese spy. Her mother, grandmother, and uncle were subsequently interned at a camp in Topaz, Utah. Otsuka draws on both research and personal experience, as well as her background as a visual artist, to craft this crystalline, semi-autobiographical debut novel, winner of the American Library Association’s Alex Award and the Asian American Literary Award. The internment experience in the novel is recounted through the varying perspectives of a mother, father, daughter, and son as they survive in the camp and then return home after two years to their old neighborhood that is neither familiar nor hospitable. This is “a gem of a book and one of the most vivid history lessons you’ll ever learn” (USA Today).
Check out our YouTube channel to watch the replays of our 2020 events! Visit youtube.com/waukeshareads.
Attendees of the Brown Bag Conversation on October 21, 2020, were asked to submit haikus inspired by the novel. A haiku is a type of Japanese poetry that has three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively. Click here to read their poetry!
NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.