About the book, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment
One summer night in prewar Japan, eleven-year-old Billy Reynolds takes snapshots at his parent’s dinner party. That same evening his father Anton–a prominent American architect–begins a torrid affair with the wife of his master carpenter. A world away in New York, Cameron Richards rides a Ferris Wheel with his sweetheart and dreams about flying a plane. Though seemingly disparate moments, they will all draw together to shape the fate of a young girl caught in the midst of one of WWII’s most horrific events–the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo.
Exquisitely-rendered, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment tells the stories of families on both sides of the Pacific: their loves and infidelities, their dreams and losses–and their shared connection to one of the most devastating acts of war in human history.
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About the author, Jennifer Cody Epstein
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.
Connect with Jennifer
While I’m not typically a fan of historical fiction, I make exceptions for recent history. The recent acquisition of a scrapbook my grandfather made when he was stationed in Hawaii in the 1930s had sparked my interest in the period just before and during World War II, and when I was offered The Gods of Heavenly Punishment to read and review, it seemed like a sign, especially since so much of the literature about that period is so Eurocentric.
This book, however, is a refreshing change from the usual, both because of the subject, and because it tells such an earthy, gritty, human story. We meet three boys in different parts of the world, and we revisit them during their lives, as tragedy occurs, finally saying goodbye to the last of them as a grown man.
We meet the girls and women who dance in and out of the boys’ lives, and they are as dimensional, as fully-realized as any lead characters in any work, despite not being on ‘center stage.
Even though we know the bare facts of history, there are thousands of stories, some separate, some interconnected, and Epstein weaves her fiction into the historical context with deftness and grace. From the opening chapters – a boy kissing a girl on a Ferris wheel, another boy snapping pictures with his brand new camera – to the closing ones – a man confronting the truth of his fathers actions toward another, a woman seeing treasured photos of her parents – we are treated to beautiful human moments that pull us away from the brutal atrocities of war.
I won’t pretend that some aspects of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment aren’t difficult. They are, and they should be. War isn’t clean and pretty. War stories shouldn’t be either.
But the book is still hauntingly beautiful and achingly poignant, and I found myself emerging from it with a deeper sense of history.
This review is part of a virtual book tour. For more information, visit the tour page by clicking here.