Sunday, April 24, 2011

When the Emperor was Divine

I am reading too many things at once.  One of them is When the Emperor was Divine, by Julie Otsuka.  It is a lovely book--a crystal clear prose style, a quiet truth telling from the perspectives of multiple characters inside that unifying style, and the story of Japanese Americans in 1942 suddenly "reclassified" in the middle of their lives and sent off to internment camps.

I'm reading this one at my daughter's request, as she is reading it for school and really likes it. Whenever my daughter asks me to read something, I do it. It's a wonderful way to connect. The other night she asked me to read it aloud to her while she ate her bedtime snack of sliced strawberries and mandarin oranges.

My book group read Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford, which addresses the same historical moment, but I am liking this even better for its swift telling and simplicity.

I use "simplicity" as a word of praise here, far from "simplistic," a damning word, and I notice that not everyone out there makes that distinction, so I am clarifying here. It is a directness, and, in this case, a fullness inside restraint. It is a trust, a confidence, that saying what is there will be enough.

No need to embellish or over-explain or tell the reader what to feel. The reader can be trusted to feel what is there if you say what is there. I admire this in poetry, too, so I'd call this a poetic style.

The subtlety and complexity of human existence are beautifully handled by the simplicity of diction and style in this book. There is selection of detail, and of what to say and what not to say, so there is mystery, human mystery, and a respect for the things we can seldom know or say.  All are evoked in few words. I love that!


April 24 poem-a-day prompt: Easter


Maureen said...

There was a show last year at the Renwick of the objects (now art) made by the Japanese interned in the U.S. Quite moving. I think the images are still available online.

Have a lovely Easter Sunday.

Kathleen said...

Thank you. You, too, Maureen.

seana graham said...

I remember when this came out and being drawn to it. Didn't get to it then, unfortunately, but I'll bump it up the list now.

Emily said...

Once I went to a Quaker family conference with my parents, where there a few shirts seen that proclaimed that "simple-minded" was a compliment.

Kathleen said...

Just finished the book, Seana. Simplicity packs a wallop!

Yes, Emily. "Simple-minded" can be a compliment, said earnestly or with a kind of sweet irony, too, as I just heard it in People Will Talk, an amazing old black and white movie with Cary Grant and Jeanne Crain. Wow!

Emily said...

My mind is simple in some respects, but I don't think I'm simple minded, because my mind is complicated in other ways.

I also like to talk about myself.

Kathleen said...

Emily, I laughed in delight!! My mind is likewise complicated and simple!