Monday, January 13, 2014

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Jennifer Cody Epstein's The Gods of Heavenly Punishment.

On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor forcing the United States into WWII. In 1942, the US began a small scale bombing of the country to be followed by additional campaigns and culminating in the March 9-10 firebombing of Tokyo in 1945. This tragic event is the center of Jennifer Cody Epstein's new novel.

Billy Reynolds spent his childhood years in Tokyo. His father, Anton Reynolds, was an architect of great acclaim at the time, even apprenticing under Frank Lloyd Wright himself and having consulted on the building of the Imperial Hotel. Anton's right hand man, Kenji Kobayashi makes no attempts to hide his thoughts about foreigners, the Chinese in particular, and when war breaks out he is posted in a Manchurian colony that proves to be the fatal landing spot for one American pilot. Meanwhile, Kenji's wife and daughter, Hana and Yoshi, are still living in Tokyo when the bombing begins. And the pilot, his wife waits behind in America, longing for a report on her husband's fate. 

This one is a hard one to sum up and I noticed both the publicity material and the cover copy focus on very different aspects of the story. My own attempt really only brushes the surface of the tale, but there are so many characters and so many viewpoints covered that it's really the only way to fairly summarize it.

In a nutshell, this is a story about the WWII firebombing of Japan told from the few years leading up to the event through its aftermath and through the eyes of a handful of very different characters who each play very different roles in the event. The book does an amazing job of portraying these varying sides and in illustrating the horrors of war.

I'll admit that until now the majority of the WWII fiction I've read has all been centered around Germany so this was not only an interesting change up for me but also an introduction to Jennifer Cody Epstein's work. Epstein spent time living and working in Tokyo and has a degree in Asian Studies (one of a few degrees under her belt) and it's clear that this is a topic close to her heart. It's also clear that she's got an amazing talent for putting together prose that is not only riveting but emotionally evocative.

Stylistically the author has a very interesting approach with each section playing out essentially as a vignette tied in with the others. The first chapter is one event told from varying perspectives, offering the reader a slightly different version with each change in narrator. While this is the only chapter to take this approach it does set the tone for the novel itself as the entirety of the story is exactly that: one event told from varying perspectives.

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is a really fabulous historical novel and one that's prompted me to search out the author's debut, The Painter From Shanghai, to add to the TBR in the very near future.

Rating: 4/5

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on the author and her work, visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook.

1 comment:

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

I've read one other novel about this same topic and found it fascinating. It's a part of history that I really don't know a lot about.

Thanks for being on the tour!