The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein
Paperback, 400 pages
W. W. Norton & Company
January 13, 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Received from publisher for review as part of HFBRT blog tour
“In this evocative and thrilling epic novel, 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.”
I love reading about WWII and I have always, for some reason, been most intrigued by the stories set in the Pacific theatre. I think this partially stems from the fact that it wasn’t taught as much as the German front while I was in school. Not only does Gods of Heavenly Punishment cover one event in the Pacific theatre, but the way in which it does that is so different and unique, that I LOVED every minute of the reading experience.
In this novel we follow the events proceeding, during, and following the firebombing of Tokyo – and we see it from many different angles, both Japanese and American. You get a taste of the home-front in both Japan and the United States, as well as the war-zone. I think that Epstein really captured very well what I envision “the old boys club” of WWII would have been like as well as the fears and anxiety that would have existed leading up to these events. I was captivated by all of the characters, their stories, and how they all came together and tied up the various narrative strings. As I read, I kept wondering how different strings were going to come together, as they seemingly wound around each other but didn’t have an obvious connection at all times.
Modern Japan is a very new setting for me; Japan in general is a very new setting for me. Epstein’s experience living in Japan helped evoke the essence of the locale and made it very accessible to me as a reader. The actual scene of the fire-bombing was intense, terrifying, and tear inducing.
The book jumps across various locations with several years passing by in between each chapter. There were huge breaks in the knowledge we have of each of the main character’s experiences. While there were times that I felt that I would like to know some more about what happened since the last time we were with that character, it didn’t really matter in the end. There was always enough given to keep you connected with their story thread and to prevent the reader from being confused by what was transpiring.
I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed this book. The prose was beautiful and read very quickly. For once the title and cover made great sense with the book (although I truthfully liked the hardcover version better). Pick this book up!
Author Jennifer Cody Epstein also has written The Painter From Shanghai. You can visit Jennifer’s website or blog for additional information about the book. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out these excerpts from the book?
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