Quick Reads in Historical Fiction
Since discovering the novelist Haruki Murakami, I’ve grown fascinated with Japanese culture. Two recent reads, When The Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka and The Typist by Michael Knight, reveal captivating details about American and Japanese attitudes during and following the second World War.
When The Emperor Was Divine chronicles the experiences of a Japanese American family living in California during World War II. The father is the first removed and is taken from his home wearing only his slippers, a detail that distresses his daughter throughout the rest of the story. She fares only slightly better when the rest of the family is relocated to an internment camp in Utah per Executive Order 9066. There’s a surprising serenity in the way the characters accept the painful circumstances they find themselves in, as shown in the father’s letters that try to paint a rosy picture of life as a detainee and the mother’s calm resolve as she prepares for the relocation.
When the Emperor Was Divine is an adult novel but appropriate for high school or even middle school students, as it packs a powerful story into only 160 pages. If you’re interested in this area of history or stories about Japanese Americans, you may want to check it out.
From the other side of the globe, The Typist by Michael Knight describes events in Tokyo following World War II. The typist of the title is an American soldier named Van who babysits and ultimately befriends General MacArthur’s lonely son. Van’s view of occupied Japan and his unique perspective on life in the MacArthur household make this short novel (208 pages) truly memorable.