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About the 2009/2010 Book

When the Emperor Was Diving - book cover

The Sacramento State One Book Program is proud to announce the selection of our 2009-2010 One Book: Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine.

When the Emperor Was Divine, Ms. Otsuka’s debut novel, delicately but movingly provides the story of one Japanese American family’s experience in an internment camp during WWII.  While the novel explores subject matter with which Ms. Otsuka has personal experience (her mother, grandmother, and uncle were interned in Topaz, Utah), she notes:

"I wanted to write a novel about real people. . . their experience is universal not only for Japanese Americans, but for people of any ethnic group. All throughout history people have been rounded up and sent away into exile. The predicament of the family in my novel. . . is that of ordinary people caught up in the extraordinary."

Ms. Otsuka will visit our campus for a series of One Book activities culminating in a community-wide lecture and Q&A on Monday, October 5, 2009.

Excerpt: Evacuation Order No. 19


"The sign had appeared overnight. On billboards and trees and the backs of the bus-stop benches. It hung in the window of Woolworth's. It hung by the entrance to the YMCA. It was stapled to the door of the municipal court and nailed, at eye level, to every telephone pole along University Avenue. The woman was returning a book to the library when she saw the sign in a post office window. It was a sunny day in Berkeley in the spring of 1942 and she was wearing new glasses and could see everything clearly for the first time in weeks. She no longer had to squint but she squinted out of habit anyway. She read the sign from top to bottom and then, still squinting, she took out a pen and read the sign from top to bottom again. The print was small and dark. Some of it was tiny. She wrote down a few words on the back of a bank receipt, then turned around and went home and began to pack.

When the overdue notice from the library arrived in the mail nine days later she still had not finished packing. The children had just left for school and boxes and suitcases were scattered across the floor of the house. She tossed the envelope into the nearest suitcase and walked out the door."

Copyright © 2002 by Julie Otsuka, Inc.

(top) Japanese Americans pile luggage at the Elk Grove train station; (bottom) Japanese Americans walk along side train with luggage. - University Special Collections

Critics describe the book as “exceptional. . .Otsuka skillfully dramatizes a world suddenly foreign. . . .[Her] incantatory, unsentimental prose is the book’s greatest strength.” —The New Yorker


The One Book selection committee, comprised of faculty, staff, students and community representatives, based its decision on the following criteria:

  • Accessibility and appeal to all community members
  • Quality of writing
  • Encourages interdisciplinary thought and sparks passionate discussion in a variety of courses and contexts
  • Explores diverse cultural perspectives
  • Provides challenging opportunities for new learning and exploration
  • Addresses contemporary issues

last updated: 7/8/2009