Novels about the discrimination suffered by Asians in America tend to be melodramatic affairs calculated to get readers reaching for tissues rather than insight. Julie Otsuka's first novel, When the Emperor Was Divine
, is a crisp departure from the Asian-American sobfest. Otsuka's tale of the disintegration of a Japanese-American family during World War II offers a powerful indictment of government-sponsored paranoia that has implications for today's U.S. war on terror.
The book's backdrop—the injustices suffered by Japanese Americans incarcerated in internment camps during the war—is familiar material. But Otsuka, through various devices such as the use of characters without...
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