Julie Otsuka

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Julie Otsuka
Born (1962-05-15) May 15, 1962 (age 60)
Palo Alto, California
Alma materYale University
Columbia University
GenreHistorical fiction
Notable worksWhen the Emperor was Divine The Buddha in the Attic
RelativesMichael Otsuka

Julie Otsuka is an American author.


Otsuka was born in 1962, in Palo Alto, California. Her father worked as an aerospace engineer, while her mother worked as a lab technician before she gave birth to Otsuka. Both of her parents were of Japanese descent, with her father being an issei and her mother being a nisei.[1] At the age of nine, her family moved to Palos Verdes, California. She has two brothers, one of whom, Michael Otsuka, is currently teaching at the London School of Economics.[2]

After graduating from high school, Otsuka attended Yale University, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1984. She later graduated from Columbia University with a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1999.[3][4] Her debut novel When the Emperor was Divine dealt with Japanese American internment during World War II. It was published in 2002 by Alfred A. Knopf. Her second novel, The Buddha in the Attic (2011), is about Japanese picture brides.

Otsuka is known for her historical fiction novels dealing with Japanese Americans. Her books are known for calling attention to the plight of Japanese Americans throughout World War II. She did not live through the Japanese Internment period, but her mother, uncle, and two grandparents did, which gives Otsuka a unique and personal perspective on the matter. When the Emperor was Divine was the first fiction novel where she discusses Japanese internment camps. With a background as a painter, Julie Otsuka's attention to detail and great descriptions give the reader vivid imagery of different situations throughout her novels.[5] She is a recipient of the Albatros Literaturpreis.

Otsuka lives in New York City.[6]

Awards and honors[edit]


  • When the Emperor was Divine. New York City: Alfred A. Knopf. 2002. ISBN 978-0-385-72181-3.

A novel written by Julie Otsuka in 2002 describing a Japanese American family that was put into an internment camp in the second World War. The novel follows a family made up of a mother, her two children and their father who was incarcerated and whose location is unknown until his return after the war. The novel depicts the struggle of Japanese Americans at the time and the unimaginable life conditions that these people suffered during and after the internment period. The first three chapters are told in the perspective of the mother, the eleven-year-old daughter and the eight-year-old son. The fourth chapter is told through a "we" perspective that is an attempt to articulate the struggle to Japanese Americans as a whole and the fifth giving the perspective of the family's father.

In an interview published on Indiebound, in response to the question, "What made you choose Japanese-American internment camps as the subject matter for your first novel," Otsuka replied, "I feel like the subject matter chose me. I had never planned to write a novel about the camps -- too daunting, subject-matter-wise, and who was I to tell this particular story anyway? Would anyone even want to hear about the camps? But images of the war seemed to keep surfacing in my work, so clearly the camps were something I needed to write about."[15]

This novel is similar to When the Emperor was Divine in terms that both deal with the troubles of Japanese Americans living in a new land. They both confront the harsh reality that the American Dream is not something so easily attained. In 8 sections, this novel chronicles a few Japanese picture brides who are to be sent to the United States in order to get married. Despite dreaming of the wonderful life they will live in America, they are instead presented with a life of labor and discrimination. These hardships only get worse as The United States gets involved in World War II[5]

  • Diem Perdidi is a short story that follows the scattered memories of the protagonist's mother as her mother's dementia progresses.[16]
  • The Swimmers. New York City: Alfred A. Knopf. 2022. ISBN 978-0-5933-2133-1.


  1. ^ Oh, Seiwoong (2010). Encyclopedia of Asian-American Literature. Infobase Publishing. p. 232. ISBN 978-1-4381-2088-1.
  2. ^ Ciabattari, Jane (September 16, 2011). "Novelist Julie Otsuka talks about her new novel which follows the lives of Japanese picture brides coming to America in the 1920s—and her own families' struggles here". The Daily Beast. Retrieved July 15, 2012.
  3. ^ "Julie Otsuka". University of the Pacific. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved July 15, 2012.
  4. ^ Yackley, Rachel Baruch (March 24, 2007). "Family's experience colors novel about internment". Daily Herald. Paddock Publications. Retrieved July 16, 2012. (subscription required)
  5. ^ a b Amato. "Julie Otsuka". Julie Otsuka. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  6. ^ "About Julie Otsuka". julieotsuka.com. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
  7. ^ Julie Otsuka - John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-01-04. Retrieved 2012-12-30.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "'When the Emperor was Divine'... and When Japanese Americans Were Rounded Up". Asia Society. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
  9. ^ Alex Awards 2003
  10. ^ "Past Winners of the David J. Langum Sr. Prizes". The Langum Charitable Trust. Archived from the original on June 30, 2012. Retrieved June 16, 2012.
  11. ^ "Past Winners & Finalists". Archived from the original on 2013-12-21. Retrieved 2018-07-03.
  12. ^ "2012 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award"
  13. ^ "US writer Julie Otsuka wins Femina foreign novel prize". France24. November 6, 2012. Retrieved November 6, 2012.
  14. ^ "Albatros-Literaturpreis an Julie Otsuka und Katja Scholtz". Focus. 15 December 2013. Retrieved December 17, 2013.
  15. ^ "Julie Otsuka Interview | IndieBound.org". www.indiebound.org. Retrieved 2020-05-23.
  16. ^ Otsuka, Julia. "Diem Perdidi." Granta Magazine. vol. 117. October 27, 2011.

External links[edit]