When the Emperor was Divine
by Julie Otsuka
Written beautifully, almost in prose, this small novel is set in a terrible time and deed in our country's history. A time when all Japanese Americans were rounded up and taken to interment camps to be held "for their own security". Author Julie Otsuka takes us along as one family experiences this horrific time and how it changed them. Told in three different voices, the story opens with the mother seeing a notice in downtown Berkley, California to all Japanese residents, telling them what to pack, what to leave, and what day to leave for camp. We follow the mother's steps through the time of packing. Once the family has boarded the train, we follow along with the sister and her thoughts through the long train journey to the desert camp in Utah where they will be detained. At camp, the story is told through the eyes of the little brother, who desperately misses his father, a man who was taken from the family the night of the Pearl Harbor bombing. There are so many unknowns for the family. How long will they be here? Will they ever see Papa again? What is happening to their house and belongings?
This book is powerful, written almost without emotion, but so beautiful that I found myself reading out loud to an empty room just because I liked the way it sounded. A book that speaks to you and will be with you for a very long time to come.
The Buddha in the Attic
by Julie Otsuka
Another incredible book by author Julie Otsuka! The Buddha in the Attic begins on the boat from Japan that is carrying young mail picture brides across the ocean to their husbands in San Francisco. This novel is done in sections, from the women's journey across the water, to the first meetings with their new husbands, to the fields and farms and cities they will call home, and throughout their lives until they are taken away from their homes and placed in relocation camps. These were very strong women who gave up everything to come to America, and once here, gave up more to be what their husbands needed and wanted. Then, when there was no more to give, gave up their homes, and sometimes their families to be tragically herded into these camps "for their own security". Written in the first person, this incredible book is done in not one voice but a chorus of nameless voices that somehow feels very intimate. It is a quite small novel, but very very powerful in it's prose.
The Green Mile
by Stephen King
Never having read Stephen King, I wasn't sure what to expect with The Green Mile but I am here to say that this is one incredible story, written so well and so engaging right from the first page that I couldn't put it down.Set at Cold Mountain Penitentiary in Georgia, this is the story of just a few months of time during 1932 and really focuses on John Coffey, a man who has been convicted of the rape and murder of two little girls. Two other prisoners, convicted murderers as well, are also a big focus of the story; Eduard Delacroix, a small french man who befriends a mouse named Mr. Jingles, and William Wharton, a psychopath known as "Billy the Kid". Paul Edgecombe is the "bull-goose screw" of the E block known as The Green Mile. Here we meet the other very likable guards, Brutal, Harry and Dean as well as one guard, Percy, who has his job because of his family connection to the governor and is just as sadistic and mean as the worst prisoner to live on this death row.
John Coffey is a huge black man, simple-minded, afraid of the dark, and whose face shows great sorrow with his never-ending tears. He seems to be just a gentle giant of a man and after miraculously curing Paul's terrible urinary tract infection with a touch of his hand, Paul starts to wonder if it is really possible that John committed the terrible crime that he's been convicted of. John Coffey seems to have a gift - but is it more of a curse than a gift?
I can't tell you much more in order to not spoil some things for you if you haven't read this book. What I can tell you is that it is one of the best books I've ever read. You will connect emotionally with each character, whether or not you like them, love them or hate them. Each character could be your neighbor in your small town. There is no horror in this book like Stephen King is known for, only friends, enemies and magic. I finished the book in tears, then turned around and watched the movie, (which was done really well, by the way!), in tears also. A story that will haunt me for awhile.
And then, I had to make my very own Mr. Jingles.
What have you been reading this month?
Pop on over to Adrienne's place - Some of a Kind - to join in and see where reading has taken others lately.