The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, by Jennifer Cody Epstein, is a brilliant, epic novel that is an emotionally character driven look into a part of World War II not always featured heavily in historical fiction work.
It gives the reader a glimpse, through the eyes of every day characters, the life pre- and post part of the war that occurs between America and Japan. It impacts our soul by concentrating on the result these horrors of war has on actual life.
However, the book does more than bring to us a reporting of events as it draws comparisons among characters and shows us that human compassion doesn’t have boundaries, even in war. It offers a look at the survival of the human spirit, determination of the soul, and love that extends even through heartache.
In her own subtle way she creates suspense as she begins her novel in a way that makes us feel that this is a normal story of life’s interactions, only to literally “drop the bomb.” To me, I sensed this was pretty parallel to how the people in Japan felt when the firebombing occurred in Tokyo. Though she didn’t rely heavily on any military or war details, she brought the story to us through how the war effected the people on both sides of the conflict, how it impacted families in both America and Japan, and how it pitted people not even wanting to be involved in war against each other. Although I don’t want to mislead you, hearing about the atrocities is unsettling, as it should be to readers.
I’ve not ever read much historical fiction involving the Japanese side of WWII. The writing style of Epstein intrigued me and has made me want to learn more. I didn’t remember that fighter pilots were captured and tortured, nor did it dawn on me that so many thousands of people were killed in Tokyo. However, as I stated, her book isn’t fully a history lesson, it’s more a story of how life and people all intertwine together. It shows us how, in life, we are all connected in some form. The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is truly a story of journey and redemption.
Epstein’s character development, layers of literary depth, and emotionally moving and complex story lead me to highly recommend this book not just to fans of historical fiction, but to readers who can appreciate literary fiction that cements itself into the psyche and the heart, causing thought-provoking episodes. It’s truly a piece of literature that delves into societal and social issues in history, comparable to another best-loved author of mine, Pearl S. Buck.
THE GODS OF HEAVENLY PUNISHMENT, Synopsis~
A lush, exquisitely rendered meditation on war, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment tells the story of several families, American and Japanese, their loves and infidelities, their dreams and losses, and how they are all connected by one of the most devastating acts of war in human history.
Fifteen-year-old Yoshi Kobayashi, child of Japan’s New Empire, daughter of an ardent expansionist and a mother with a haunting past, is on her way home on a March night when American bombers shower her city with napalm—an attack that leaves one hundred thousand dead within hours and half the city in ashen ruins. In the days that follow, Yoshi’s old life will blur beyond recognition, leading her to a new world marked by destruction and shaped by those considered the enemy: Cam, a downed bomber pilot taken prisoner by the Imperial Japanese Army; Anton, a gifted architect who helped modernize Tokyo’s prewar skyline but is now charged with destroying it; and Billy, an Occupation soldier who arrives in the blackened city with a dark secret of his own. Directly or indirectly, each will shape Yoshi’s journey as she seeks safety, love, and redemption.
Praise for The Gods of Heavenly Punishment
“…The book reveals itself to be as miraculously constructed as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (which itself is a character). The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is a page-turner thanks to its high-stakes adventure, torrid love affairs and characters so real they seem to follow you around. And in the end, this gripping novel asks us not just to consider a lost chapter of a famous war but also to explore what it means to be lucky—and what it means to be loved. (Amy Shearn, O magazine)
“The Gods of Heavenly Punishment showcases war’s bitter ironies…as well as its romantic serendipities.” (Megan O’Grady, Vogue)
“With stunning clarity, Epstein has re-created Tokyo both before and after the bombing in a novel that raises still-unanswered questions about the horrors of war, the cruelty associated with it and the lasting impression it can make on a person, a people or a place.” (Shelf-Awareness.com)
“An epic novel about a young Japanese girl during World War II underscores the far-reaching impact that the decisions of others can have.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Epstein’s second novel (after The Painter from Shanghai) is bursting with characters and locales. Yet painful, authentic (Epstein has lived and worked in Asia), and exquisite portraits emerge of the personal impact of national conflicts—and how sometimes those conflicts can be bridged by human connections.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Sweeping….[A] harrowing novel of destruction and creation that will appeal to fans of historical fiction” (Library Journal—starred review)
Author Jennifer Cody Epstein, Biography~
Jennifer Cody Epstein is the author of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment and the international bestseller The Painter from Shanghai. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, Self, Mademoiselle and NBC, and has worked in Hong Kong, Japan and Bangkok, Thailand. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, two daughters and especially needy Springer Spaniel.
For more information, please visit www.jennifercodyepstein.com.
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