THE GODS OF HEAVENLY PUNISHMENT
by Jennifer Cody Epstein
Norton, March 2013
Hardcover, 378 pages
Source: TLC Book Tours
The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is a sweeping epic spanning from 1935 to 1962 and centering on the war between the US and Japan. In a format that I have really grown to like, this novel tells the stories of multiple families and individuals, how the war affects them, and how they are connected.
In the first chapter, we meet Cam, a young man falling in love with a girl named Lacy. When next we see Cam, he is a pilot in the Doolittle Raid, the first US air raid to strike Japan during WWII.
In another chapter, we are introduced to a Japanese girl named Yoshi, whose mother was schooled in England and whose father is in charge of building a Japanese colony in occupied Manchuria. She is perhaps the novel’s main character, and we follow her from age three to thirty. She visits Manchuria, where her view of her father changes forever, and she later survives the devastating 1945 firebombing of Tokyo, which killed more people than either of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Another major character is Billy, the son of an architect who spent many years working in Japan. We first meet him when Yoshi’s family visits his family at their Japanese country home. Although Billy was raised in Japan, he must return to the US with his family when the war makes it unsafe for them to live there.
Each of these characters are connected in different ways, but I believe going into any more depth about them would spoil the book. I can say, however, that it was fascinating to see how their relationships unfold and how a particular “come home to me safely” ring ties some of the characters together.
Interestingly, the characters in this novel are based on or inspired by actual historical figures. Although their thoughts, interactions, and dialog are fictional, knowing that these characters were real people added a layer of gravity to their stories. On a related note, these stories are heartbreaking and upsetting at times — which is fitting for a war novel. If you can’t handle seeing characters you’ve come to love die or reading gruesome descriptions of a city in flames, this might not be the book for you. I thought this novel was exquisitely done, but readers should be prepared for some unhappy endings.
I loved the way war is portrayed in The Gods of Heavenly Punishment. We have a tendency to view one side as right and the other as wrong, but Epstein recognizes that it is not that simple. I don’t think many people would argue for the morality of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. But did that act justify the US’ firebombing of Tokyo? Can anyone be in the right when so many lives are destroyed? This book clearly demonstrates that atrocities were committed by both sides, and it conveys a message of the futility of war. When such destruction is caused, does anyone really win? This novel seems to have been very well researched, and Epstein does an excellent job of portraying the war from both American and Japanese standpoints.
I highly recommend this book, especially if you are interested in historical fiction, Japanese culture, WWII, and linked narratives.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.
THE GODS OF HEAVENLY PUNISHMENT GIVEAWAY
The publishers of this book have kindly offered a copy of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment to give away. Please note that this giveaway is only open to US/Canadian residents.
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