Author: Jennifer Cody Epstein. She is the author of a previous novel, The Painter from Shanghai.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Summary: 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.
This book starts off kind of slow, but once it takes off you won’t want to let it go. I love reading books (both fiction and non-fiction) about people who lived through disasters and reading their first-hand account of the event. This book did not disappoint. The author’s way of describing things and pulling you into the book is wonderful. During the scenes where Epstein is writing about the bombings of Tokyo, my heart was breaking but at the same time, I coundn’t put the book down.
At the same time, the book flashes to a time during the war, but on the homefront. The author tells of a young woman with a young child, hoping and praying her soldier will come back to her yet at the same time is hurting and afraid he will not.
This book pulls at all of your heartstrings and just keeps plucking. I was almost relieved when I finished this book, the emotional pull it had was phenomenol.
The only thing I would suggest differently about this book is to maybe change the way the reader learns of certain events. My drive to read this book slowed way down in the beginning after learning some terrible news, there wasn’t the push to keep reading to find out what happened to one certain character who I thought would be a much bigger part of the book.
This was a love-hate book for me. The story moved very fast and I finished the book quickly. After reading the back cover about a young woman’s journey through the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo, I expected the story to begin there. However, more than half of the book was background stories of the main characters and their lives which led up to the bombing in 1945. Some of the characters were interesting but their storylines were pretty ordinary. Then the bombs and quickly the rest of the book connected all of the characters into a tidy package. It was like rushing to the end and I wanted more.
Elizabeth H. Bio
The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is a lovely novel that I read over the course of a few hours.
I feel compelled to add that it broke my heart. It isn’t a criticism, but a testimony to the skill with which Ms. Epstein captured the horrors of this theater of war. If you aren’t familiar with the Doolittle Raids, the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, or the American bombing of Tokyo, there may be parts that are difficult to read.
(If you are familiar with these things, it’s still hard to read, but at least you will not be surprised by the atrocities.)
The advance press and blurb tout this as a novel about Yoshi, a Japanese girl during the firebombing of Japan, so what I expected was Black Rain, lite. That’s true for a very small part of the book. In reality, it is an ensemble piece featuring a number of primarily American viewpoint characters whose lives intertwine slightly, and the novel ranges in time from the 1930s through the early 1960s.
So it’s a little disingenuous to claim it’s about her (it also caused me a bit of confusion since the novel didn’t start off with Yoshi; as a viewpoint character, she doesn’t even emerge until late in the book). I found all of the characters interesting, but because we spent so little time with any one of them, I never felt truly attached. I found myself wishing that either the novel had been longer, to allow for more time with each character, or that some of them were cut or merged. I see this as the novel’s main weakness, and it’s the reason I would deduct a star.
From an editorial point of view, I wanted to mark out the ample adverbs, particularly in the beginning of the novel and more particularly in dialogue tags. However, as I read on, I was so engrossed in the story that I stopped caring about these.
Mary Liz Bio
If you love well drawn characters who feel like people you have know all your life, then the epic novel The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is a book that you should not miss. The stories of each of the characters are fascinating and keep you wanting to read more but it is when these stories get pieced together and the larger picture is revealed that the novel becomes truly outstanding. Jennifer Cody Epstein’s book shows us how our decisions can have far reaching effects and just how connected our lives really are.