February 6, 2013

Incoming Cornell Freshmen to Read Japanese Internment Novel

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Freshmen coming to Cornell in the fall will be reading Julie Otsuka’s novel, When the Emperor Was Divine, over the summer as part of the New Student Reading Project. The novel tells the story of a Japanese-American family placed in an internment camp during World War II.

During Orientation Week, freshmen will attend one of six different presentations related to the reading. After the larger group lectures, the students will participate in small group discussions of 15 to 17 students led by faculty members.

According to Laura Brown, vice provost for undergraduate education, the book, which follows three and a half years in the life of an “ordinary family,” explores topics such as immigration, cultural differences and scapegoating.

The novel is also a reflection on a very important time in American history, according to Sarah H. Jones, assistant dean of students and chair of New Student Programs. She said that one of the reasons she believes students will be able to relate to the novel is its focus on relationships and family.

“The book tells many different stories –– those of individuals, of families and of communities,” she said. “I think the New Student Reading Project is a great way for new students to be introduced to their classmates in an intellectual setting, as well as professors during lectures and to faculty in small groups.”

According to Jones, the University chose the book because of the relevance of its themes and the quality of its writing.

Jones also said the depth of the characters is something that interested her about the novel.

“There are very strong connections to our modern situation. … This is a book that I didn’t want to put down,” Jones said.

Brown echoed Jones’ sentiment, saying the book was chosen for its quality and adding that the book is “thought-provoking.” The diverse perspectives provided in the book also played a role in its selection, she said.

“It was interesting to the selection committee that the story is told from many points of view –– one of which was the point of view of a child,” Brown said.

The New Student Reading Program began in 2001, and in the last three years, students have read Romain Gary’s The Life Before Us, E.L. Doctorow’s Homer & Langley and Philip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Original Author: Kritika Oberoi