When the Emperor Was Divine

by Julie Otsuka

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When is the husband arrested in When the Emperor Was Divine?

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The woman's husband is arrested in December. (One presumes that this is in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, as many Japanese-Americans were rounded up at that time.) The woman hasn't seen her husband since then.

First, he is sent by train to Fort Missoula, Montana, and then subsequently to Fort Sam Houston in Texas. Every few days or so he is allowed to write his wife a letter; usually, he just talks about the weather. But that is because his mail, like that of every other detainee, is censored.

This is made clear on the back of every envelope received by the woman from her husband, which is stamped "Censored, War Department," or "Detained Alien Enemy Mail." Though the woman's husband has done absolutely nothing wrong, he's being treated like a criminal in the atmosphere of growing racism and paranoia that persists after Pearl Harbor.

Soon, the woman and her children will also be heading off to an internment camp. Like all other Japanese American citizens, they have been deemed by the authorities to be a danger to national security. The woman prepares for her family's forthcoming journey by killing the pet dog and burying him in the garden, as she knows that they won't be able to take him with them to the internment camp.

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