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University of Iowa News Release

April 26, 2005

UICHR Selects 'When the Emperor was Divine' For Community Reading Project

Johnson County readers will gain new insights on human rights in the United States by participating this fall in the fifth annual "One Community, One Book-Johnson County Reads" project, sponsored by the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR). The center, in conjunction with representatives from other sponsoring organizations from Iowa City, Coralville and the UI, has selected "When the Emperor was Divine" (Anchor, 2003) by Julie Otsuka for its fall 2005 project.

In her first novel, Otsuka chronicles the heartbreaking evacuation experience of an unnamed Japanese-American family during World War II, when more than 100,000 Japanese-American citizens were interned. With no right to an identity, the family is taken away from its Berkeley home in 1942 and spends more than three years in a desert camp. In five chapters, Otsuka executes different points of view of a family who went from being American citizens to prisoners in their own country -- the mother receiving the order to evacuate, the daughter on the long train ride to the camp, the son in the desert encampment, the family's return to their home and the bitter release of the father after more than four years in captivity. Moving between dreams, memories and sharply emblematic moments, the novel reveals the dark underside of a period in American history that has been largely unexplored in American fiction.

The project will run Sept. 18 through Nov. 12. Teachers, students, librarians, book groups and others will be encouraged to participate. By announcing the book selection now, the project sponsors hope to allow time for groups to plan to read the book this fall and for teachers to plan discussions around the book.

The goal of the Johnson County Reads project to encourage people to read the selected book and, through public and private discussion to develop a greater community awareness of human rights issues. Discussion questions will be available online at the UICHR Web site ( at the start of the 2005-2006 academic year. Many public discussions of the book will be scheduled at different locations during the eight-week period.

In addition to UICHR, other project sponsors are the UI International Writing Program, Prairie Lights Books, Coralville Public Library, Hancher Auditorium, Iowa Book LLC, Iowa City Human Rights Commission, Iowa City Public Library, UI Charter Committee on Human Rights, UI International Programs and University Book Store. City High School and the West High School Library are also participating.

For more information contact Dorothy M. Paul, UICHR Associate Director for Community Affairs,

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011,; Program: Dorothy M. Paul,