Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Read: June 8, 2013

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.

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A captured American from a downed B-29
Jennifer Cody Epstein's The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is unlike any WWII fiction I've ever picked up. In many ways it is a personal story, driven by individual experiences, but at the same time it is a war story, shaped by the contention of two nations vying to defeat one another.

As far as favorite character, it is a toss-up between Hana and Anton. Hana is glamorous, intelligent, but emotionally complex. From the beginning it is clear her story will be marred by tragedy, but I couldn't help being drawn to her, couldn't help hoping her story would have a happy ending. Then there is Anton. Other characters are affected by the war, directly or indirectly, but no one else suffers such emotional conflict and inner turmoil as the American architect whose legacy is built into the Tokyo skyline. Neither Hana nor Anton is what I would call admirable, but these flawed characters - the kind who aren't black and white, the kind who aren't easy to understand, the kind prone to very realistic failings - these are the kind that make great fiction.

But good characters are only the beginning. For instance, I really loved how Epstein applied the six degrees of separation concept in this piece. Her cast is divided by background and culture, but each member plays an important role and represents something different in Yoshi's journey. I've encountered the concept in fiction before, but rarely have I seen it done with such artistry and depth as I found here.

Before I close, I'd like to offer a word of caution to more sensitive readers. The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is a work of historic fiction and Epstein is one of those admirable writers who isn't intimidated by period appropriate terminology. Personally I admire Epstein's candor, but for those who are less inclined to appreciate her dedication to historical accuracy, consider yourself warned as this book utilizes language considered both inappropriate and offensive in the modern age.

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment tackles some heavy subject matter (infidelity, post-traumatic stress disorder, prejudice, war crimes, etc.), but in the end the book is a beautiful story about survival, hope, and the courage it takes to pick up the pieces and forge ahead.

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"In times like these, people you think you know can become strangers, or even monsters. From now on - from this moment on - you must only think, first and foremost, of protecting yourself. No else matters..."
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Check out all the stops On Jennifer Cody Epstein's The Gods of Heavenly Punishment virtual book tour

Monday, June 10

Review & Giveaway at Bippity Boppity Book
Tuesday, June 11
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Wednesday, June 12
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, June 13
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, June 14
Review & Interview at A Bookish Libraria
Monday, June 17
Review at A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, June 18
Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, June 19
Review at Just One More Chapter
Thursday, June 20
Review at Tiny Library
Friday, June 21
Interview & Giveaway at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Monday, June 24
Review at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Tuesday, June 25
Review at Kinx’s Book Nook
Review & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Wednesday, June 26
Review at Bitches with Books
Thursday, June 27
Guest Post at HF Connection
Friday, June 28
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Saturday, June 29
Review at WTF Are You Reading?


Marg said...

I am so glad you loved this book too! I thought it was an exceptional read!

Tara said...

Great review.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Tara