Norton & Company: 1/13/2014
Trade Paperback, 400 pages
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 by Jennifer Cody Epstein is a historical fiction novel focused around WWII. It is recommended, especially for those who enjoy historical fiction set during WWII that focuses on characters living in Japan.
Although The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein opens in America, most of the focus in on Japan, starting just before to just after WWII with a concluding chapter set in 1962. After introducing us to an American couple, Cam and Lacy, the novel mainly follows the Reynolds and Kobayashi families and their interconnected lives. We originally meet them at a dinner party in Japan. The main character is (supposed to be) Yoshi, daughter of a traditional father, Kenji Kobayashi, and his Westernized wife, Hana. Kenji is a builder who works for Anton Reynolds, who is living in Japan with his wife and their son, Billy. Even the American couple play into the interconnectedness when we realize that a ring Lacy gave to Cam before he flew a mission over Japan ends up in Yoshi's possession.
Based around the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo, this is a fictional account and none of the characters are based on any real historical figures. Epstein includes many period details, including the use of language which some readers may find offensive.
Epstein does an admirable job developing her characters, but, after the opening chapter with Cam and Lacy, whom I liked, I was then introduced to the characters that would compose the bulk of the novel and none of which I really liked or felt any emotional connection to. Some I actively disliked. I liked Yoshi and Billy, whom we first meet as children, but not enough to carry this novel for me. It might have appealed more to me if Epstein had chosen to carefully follow a couple characters through this time in history rather than jumping from person to person and place to place. The ring appearing through the whole novel didn't work as a unifying element for me at all. It felt contrived and predictable.
There are parts of this novel that work very well. It is notably well written and captures period details beautifully (language use aside). But, I'll have to admit that, in the end, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment was just okay for me. From the reviews out there, though, I may be one of the few people who didn't love The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein.
The paperback edition is newly released this January.
Disclosure: I received a digital copy of this book from the Norton & Company for TLC review purposes.