When the Emperor Was Divine is a non-fiction narrative published in 2002 by Alfred A. Knopf and written by Julie Otsuka. The novel is set in America during the Second World War and the events described in the novel were inspired by the events Julie’s mother went through in her childhood.
While Julie was born in America, her parents were Japanese immigrant who during the Second World War were evicted from their home and then relocated into an internment camp in the Utah desert. The novel focuses on a family of four members, separated by the Americans. The father is sent into a camp before the rest of the family and thus the mother has to become the head of the family while her husband is away.
The account is presented from different perspectives and it presents different time periods, from the moment the family was informed that they will be deported to the moment they were allowed to return home. The main characters remain unknown and they are known only as the Father, Mother, Son and Daughter and the fact that the author chose to not name her characters transmits the idea that what happened to one family could have happened to many more.
The book was received positively and it was given two awards, The Asian American Literary Award in 2003 and the American Library Association's Alex Award.