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The Common Read/Common World program is excited to announce the 2019 - 2020 selection When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka.

On a sunny day in Berkeley, California, in 1942, a woman sees a sign in a post office window, returns to her home, and matter-of-factly begins to pack her family's possessions. Like thousands of other Japanese Americans they have been reclassified as enemy aliens and are about to be uprooted from their home and sent to a dusty internment camp in the Utah desert. In her first novel, Julie Otsuka tells their story from five flawlessly realized points of view and conveys the exact emotional texture of their experience: the thin-walled barracks and barbed-wire fences, the omnipresent fear and loneliness, the unheralded feats of heroism. When the Emperor Was Divine is a work of enormous power that makes a shameful episode of our history as immediate as today's headlines.

This book has been adopted as a common read experience at more than 45 colleges and universities. If you plan on utilizing this work in any of your fall classes, or are interested in partnering on programs related to this selection please contact us at

New episodes of The Commons, the Common Read podcast, will be back to talk about Just Mercy.  Check out our two Episodes from our 17-18 selection Homegoing. 

Episode 1 features USA History Professor Marsha Hamilton on the Atlantic world. 

Episode 2 USA African-American Studies Professor Kern Jackson discusses Homegoing in the broader context of folklore and American literature.