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The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein chronicles Yoshi Kobayashi’s life before, during, and after WWII, with a particular emphasis on the Tokyo fire bombings that preceded the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Billy Reynolds, whose family lives in Tokyo before the war, is a sensitive young boy who loves his new camera, and adores taking photos of Yoshi, family, friends, and more.  Cam Richards and Lacy Robertson are American college students who meet and quickly fall in love just as war is about to break out between America and Japan after Pearl Harbor, and their lives are torn apart by the war.  But ultimately, Epstein’s novel is about Yoshi and how the war tore apart a flourishing culture that once embraced American capitalism.

Not only will readers get an in-depth look at Tokyo before, during, and after the war, but they also see how war impacts not only Americans who once lived in Japan, but also those who were married to those who flew to avenge the deaths of so many in Hawaii.  Initially, readers will be duped into thinking Cam Richards and Lacy Robertson are the main protagonists — a testament to her ability to get readers to care even about secondary characters — but Yoshi is the heroine here, though there are big gaps in time that are not explored, which can leave a reader wanting more.  There is a moment near the end in particular when readers will wonder how Yoshi ends up playing piano at The American Club after the war when they last left her getting into a boat with an older man after the fire bombings, heading away from Tokyo.

“Almost by reflex Cam released the brakes and started to roll.  And then they were racing down that slippery white line, his heart pounding with the rhythmic throbbing of the twin Cyclones.  The dungaree blue of the sailors’ uniforms and the dirty gray of the ship’s island bled together as the Blonde Bombshell picked up speed.  As they passed by the signal officer (now safely flattened against the deck), Cam pulled on the yoke so hard that he felt his elbows crack, and saw the sky lunge towards him like a wet concrete wall.  They hit the ship’s edge in the after-trough of another white-topped crest, and as his plane’s nose plunged towards the water Cam’s gut plunged right along with it.”  (page 79)

Epstein is a phenomenal writer.  She captures intense moments so well, that it places the reader there with the characters.  Yoshi is a precocious young girl learning three languages thanks to her continental mother, but unfortunately, she’s held a little back by her attachment to her mother and her father’s old world conceptions of women in society.  She sees her father’s love of the new paradise, Manchuria, as a possible solution to her escape, until she learns the truth about her father’s work there.  When she heads back home, she throws herself into the national effort for the war, hoping that she can escape the disintegrating world around her in which her mother slips more and more each day.  The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein is about the outside forces that shape who we are depending on how strong we are on the inside and our ability to make our way out of the darkness into the light.

About the Author:

Jennifer Cody Epstein is the author of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment and the international bestseller The Painter from Shanghai. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, Self, Mademoiselle and NBC, and has worked in Hong Kong, Japan and Bangkok, Thailand. Jennifer lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, two daughters and especially needy Springer Spaniel. To connect with Jennifer, “like” her on Facebook.

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  • I started this today and was immediately sucked in to the story. Can’t wait to read more tomorrow!

  • This really was an incredibly great book!

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  • This looks interesting! I like the writing style in the quote you included, too.

    • I really love Epstein’s writing style.

  • Ti

    This one sounds pretty good. I just finished Wind-Up Bird and I had no idea while reading it, that it would deal with war. War! You know me and war do not mix.

    • Wow, it dealt with War…maybe I’d be interested in that!

  • I’m glad you really enjoyed this book. I loved The Painter From Shanghai, so I can’t wait to read this one. I’ve never read about the Tokyo fire bombings, so I’ll be learning something new!

    • I really liked the Tokyo Fire bombings part of the book…it was so real!