The Gods of Heavenly Punishment

Thanks to TLC Book Tours, we're pleased to present a review for The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, a new historical fiction novel by Jennifer Cody Epstein. Make sure to check out the rest of the tour stops to see other reviews!

By Jennifer Cody Epstein
Published on January 13th 2014
Published by: W. W. Norton & Company
Source: Publisher/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.
The Gods of Heavenly Punishment starts out a bit slowly, as we are introduced to our main characters long before the war starts.  Cam is in college, having his first dates with his girlfriend Lacy.  Billy is a shy, quiet American boy growing up in Japan.  Yoshi's parents are friends with Billy's, and so they spend time together as young children.  Once you settle into the pace and style of the book, however, it's a very engaging read, taking you through decades of shared histories for all of the characters.  Their lives intertwine throughout the years, in often unpredictable and heartbreaking ways.

The book is an engrossing look at a part of the war that I don't think is talked about very much.  At least from my school recollections, lessons on WWII focused mostly on Europe, with little time spared for what went on in the Pacific, aside from dropping the atomic bombs.  I don't know that I ever knew that much about the bombing of Tokyo, really, which is described so devastatingly here.  I can only imagine the amount of research that had to go in to writing this book as accurately and sensitively as it was.

The characters are all very compelling, and once I had a basic understanding of who everyone was, I wanted to keep reading to see how they all fit together.  The blurb positions Yoshi as the main character, but I feel that's a little misleading, she doesn't really get any more or less screen time than the other leads, although perhaps she and Billy are the only ones whose stories weave throughout all of the others.  The story does jump around in time a lot, so we often only get vignettes about a character's life, and are left to play catch-up throughout the chapter to understand what's happened to them in the years since we last saw them.

The book does contain a lot of instances of racism, primarily towards the Japanese, and homophobia directed towards a gay character.  And, of course, there is a lot of war-related violence and atrocities, including vivid descriptions of the bombing of Tokyo and the aftermath.  Although some sections may be hard to read, this is a very worthwhile story, even just for the beautifully flowing way in which the author writes.

We've got two copies of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment to give away to readers in the US or Canada.  Check out the Rafflecopter below and enter to win.

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