The Gods of Heavenly Punishment

( 9 )

Overview

“Showcases war’s bitter ironies . . . as well as its romantic serendipities.”—Vogue
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, ...
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The Gods of Heavenly Punishment: A Novel

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Overview

“Showcases war’s bitter ironies . . . as well as its romantic serendipities.”—Vogue
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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Epstein’s expansive novel, American and Japanese lives converge and diverge in wartime. The novel follows the cultured Yoshi, a trilingual musician and product of a mismatched marriage—her mother a troubled, Westernized beauty; her father a working-class traditionalist. At the onset of WWII, young Yoshi, living alone with her mother in Japan, receives a ring from her father, who is living abroad. The ring once belonged to a young American pilot whose fate Yoshi’s father may be tied to. As the war escalates, Yoshi survives the Americans’ firebombing that obliterates Tokyo with “a roar so deafening that the screaming world went quiet.” After the war is over, Yoshi, working as a piano player in a brothel meets Billy, a shy GI carrying his own burden. Billy brings Yoshi closer to a new life—and to painful truths about her past and the original owner of her ring. From unspeakable wartime atrocities to the intricacies of courtships, friendships, and illicit affairs, Epstein’s second novel (after The Painter from Shanghai) is bursting with characters and locales. Yet painful, authentic (Epstein has lived and worked in Asia), and exquisite portraits emerge of the personal impact of national conflicts—and how sometimes those conflicts can be bridged by human connections. Agent: Elizabeth Sheinkman, WME Entertainment (formerly with Curtis Brown, U.K.). (Mar.)
Megan O'Grady - Vogue
“The Gods of Heavenly Punishment showcases war's bitter ironies as well as its romantic serendipities.”
O Magazine - Amy Shearn
“The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is a page-turner thanks to its high-stakes adventure, torrid love affairs and characters so real they seem to follow you around. And in the end, this gripping novel asks us not just to consider a lost chapter of a famous war but also to explore what it means to be lucky—and what it means to be loved.”
Megan O'Grady - Vogue
The Gods of Heavenly Punishment showcases war's bitter ironies as well as its romantic serendipities.”
Kirkus Reviews
An epic novel about a young Japanese girl during World War II underscores the far-reaching impact that the decisions of others can have. Epstein (The Painter from Shanghai, 2008), who once lived and worked in Japan, presents a gripping story that centers around Yoshi Kobayashi, the product of an arranged marriage. Her father is a builder of common ancestry, and Hana, her mother, is a British-educated descendant of samurais. Hana doesn't fit into either world, and her feelings of abandonment are reflected in the way she raises her daughter, who learns three languages and piano at a very early age. Cam, a stutterer who's worked hard to overcome his disability, is married to his college sweetheart. His dreams of flying come true when he joins the Army Air Force and is assigned to James Doolittle's squadron. Billy Reynolds has spent his youth in Japan and is keenly aware that he's different. Fodder for the bullies at school, Billy loves photography, and when he receives a camera for his 12th birthday, he begins to document what he sees. His architect father, Anton, has designed many of the cutting-edge buildings cropping up in prewar Tokyo. But with the advent of war, many things change. The family leaves Japan, and Anton becomes involved in a military project that ultimately destroys what he's helped create. The author thoughtfully describes the hellish realities of war: the lack of tolerance for, and unwillingness to understand, other cultures; the universal pain of loss and human suffering; the brutality of mankind as lives are torn asunder. She infuses her narrative with many decent, strong characters who, in the end, manage to survive the tragedies of war and build new lives. Readers, particularly those who enjoy WWII fiction, will appreciate this story.
Amy Shearn - O Magazine
“A page-turner thanks to its high-stakes adventure, torrid love affairs and characters so real they seem to follow you around. And in the end, this gripping novel asks us not just to consider a lost chapter of a famous war but also to explore what it means to be lucky—and what it means to be loved.”
Jennifer Egan
“Jennifer Cody Epstein’s triumphant second novel is a big, visceral, achingly humane portrait of wartime Japan and several Americans charged with building and destroying it. The sweep of Epstein’s vision is matched by her empathetic attention to the smallest details in the lives of the people who inhabit it.”
Angela Davis-Gardner
“Jennifer Cody Epstein depicts the firebombing of Tokyo and concurrent events in unflinching but delicately rendered detail. Immaculately researched and deeply imagined, this is an astonishing novel whose battles and intimate encounters alike carry the force of electric jolt. I have never read anything else like it.”
Debra Dean
“I dare you to read this and not be swept up. The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is shocking and delicate in equal measure.”
John Burnham Schwartz
“Beautifully researched and evoked, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment brings to haunting, dramatic life one of the most destructive acts of warfare ever perpetrated. In its passion and sweep, this lovely book does artful justice to the profound, contradictory connections between victims and victors, public histories and private lives.”
Hillary Jordan
“With the drama and sweep of The English Patient and a rich, painterly sensibility all her own, Jennifer Cody Epstein has created an indelible portrait of the war in the Pacific, seen through the eyes of six characters whose stories will haunt you long after the final brush stroke.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393071573
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/11/2013
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 1,249,477
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Jennifer Cody Epstein is the author of the internationally bestselling novel The Painter from Shanghai. She lives in New York with her husband and two daughters.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 9 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 1, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Good read!

    I liked the weaving of characters through one character. The description of the bombing of Tokyo in 1942 was riveting.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 14, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    This book follows a young Japanese girl Yoshi, and various chara

    This book follows a young Japanese girl Yoshi, and various characters that either directly or indirectly impact her life, which is shattered by the US napalm attack on Tokyo in 1945.

    The bombing was truly tragic and barbaric. However I do know that the Japanese government/army was out of control. They'd become greedy bullies, trying to get more and more land and resources, by any means necessary. I've read about what they did in Nanking, and it was hideous.

    I have loved this book from page one. I love the ease with which the author writes, making it an easy yet captivating read. And perhaps part of the reason that I love this book is that so much of it takes place in Japan-- a place that I grew up hearing about, given that my family lived there for three years before I was born. I grew up speaking common Japanese phrases and eating with chopsticks, and surrounded by Japanese decorations and dolls and books. So this book was a very comfortable fit for me.

    I loved so many of the characters. Yoshi was a treasure-- smart, beautiful and hopeful. Cam was a charmer. Billy Reynolds and Cam's brother Mike were all likable. There's also some difficult characters-- those who have good and bad sides to them. Hana, Kenji, Anton and his wife. This book is full of complicated characters that can't be easily characterized as "good" or "bad" or "likable"-- although some do seem to turn "bad" over time.

    Yoshi's mother Hana doted on her when she was a girl, thinking she was absolutely perfect. But time and perhaps mental illness began to wear her down, and Yoshi found herself alone, even when her mother was there.

    My final word: The author has won me over with her writing. Her description of Japan, the people and the culture is beautiful! Yoshi is a strong character, not giving in and losing herself to all that life has dealt her. A number of wonderful, positive male characters as well (sometimes books with strong female characters portray men as villains or dolts). This book brings the tragedy of the Tokyo bombing (as well as other areas of Japan) to light-- a revelation for those unfamiliar with this time period. I think this whole period in history has been downplayed in our schools, to make the US appear to be victims of the Pearl Harbor bombing without really recognizing the hideousness of our own deeds perpetrated on civilians following that event.

    A powerful story beautifully told.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 11, 2014

    How many of us know this time period in history?

    It was an intriguing time, and though I found the jumping around of the different stories hard to follow, I enjoyed the book and learning more about this time in our history.

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  • Posted January 22, 2014

    This is a story that will bring to light so much that as America

    This is a story that will bring to light so much that as American students, we didn’t know as much detail about: the 1945 bombing in Tokyo, the Americans who were pretty much sent on suicide missions because they didn’t have enough gas fuel to bring them to safety, and the horrible camps that the surviving pilots had to endure.

    1962. Having never been to Tokyo before, it was quite detailing and horrific, that it made me feel as if I was there alongside the author and her characters.

    What I loved most, was that in the midst of such turmoil, tragedy, and destruction, that love and hope prevails. Both sides of the war are shown: the lives of those in America (past and present day), and those in Tokyo (past and present). The story does fluctuate between past/present, lapsed years, and the lives of Americans and Japanese characters in the storylines. It is interesting to see how they all become connected and that hope is what brings people together, weaving through the lives of others.

    It’s a very slow book, with many characters and events, but the author does this in a way that helps the reader understand what’s going on, despite that. It’s a great read for those who love war history, historical fiction, relationships about love and resiliency, and even to just read a story of a war, with a different point of view.

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  • Posted September 26, 2013

    Despite the sad topic, this story is told beautifully from diffe

    Despite the sad topic, this story is told beautifully from different perspectives. 
    Not knowing much about Japan during this time period the rich details and descriptions really threw me into the time, place, event and aftermath.
    A few photos are included at the start of some chapters which bring a nice touch to the story. 

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  • Posted September 16, 2013

    This is a bonus book.   There is two stories combined in one.  T

    This is a bonus book.   There is two stories combined in one.  The story of the Americans and the Story of the Japanese.  Some of the stories in this book are very heavy topics, infidelity, post traumatic stress, and war crimes, to name a few.  The book also is about survival and courage to live and move ahead with your lives.  World War II is one of my favorite eras to read about and this book was unlike any other I had read before.   There is a lot of history being shared throughout the pages, a lot of it I had never read of before in a World War II book.




    I was anxious as I read each chapter to see how the stories would weave together.  I enjoyed getting to know all the characters and loved each of their stories individually.  I kept trying to put the pieces together and just didn’t always get the clues.    The book kept me reading knowing that I had to figure it all out.




    Jennifer Cody Epstein is an author that I will be looking for more from.  If you enjoy World War II era books this is a unique book that I will recommend you read.

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  • Posted June 25, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is an intriguing look at war and

    The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is an intriguing look at war and survival, and the ability of the human spirit to endure. The main conflict in the story is the bombing of Tokyo during World War II.




    Yoshi is a young woman at the center of the story. Her father is a major builder in the city and her mother with a troubled past who was the granddaughter of a Samurai warrior. There are several supporting characters in the story who each add a layer of intensity to this epic tale and help to unfold the mystery within the story.




    Expertly researched and beautifully written, this novel sweeps a wide span to give readers an indepth look at the atrocities of war and the impact upon those who survived. There are several threads to follow, but they are expertly woven and the plot is easy to follow. This novel reaches deep into one’s soul to fill readers with a realm of emotions. It deals with issues of conscience, forgiveness, love, and endurance. A fascinating read beautifully rendered.

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  • Posted May 31, 2013

    The horrendous atrocities of war and the delicate strength of th

    The horrendous atrocities of war and the delicate strength of the human spirit are all wrapped up in this novel about the firebombing of Tokyo during World War II. THE GODS OF HEAVENLY PUNISHMENT is a work of art and beauty and I will read it again to ease the tensions which continue to cross my mind and disrupt my awareness.

    “I dare you to read this and not be swept up. THE GODS OF HEAVENLY PUNISHMENT is shocking and delicate in equal measure.” Debra Dean, author, of THE MADONNAS Of LENINGRAD (on the book jacket)

    This is the story of Yoshi and how war and a host of people will direct her experience of war and lead to her survival. She is the daughter of a Japanese builder who has worked with an Architect to change the skyline of Tokyo (Yep! Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel is part of the story) and her mother who is the granddaughter of a Samurai Warrior who has a troubled past; she speaks many languages fluently. It is the story of the architect who builds the new vision, then works on its destruction and how he knows Yoshi. It is the story of Cam a fighter pilot who has wanted to fly an airplane his whole life; he is one of the downed pilots after an initial bombing raid. On this list of Yoshi’s journey, I must include Billy who was born in Japan and returns as an occupation soldier for the rebuilding process.

    I do not read the book covers or the promo pages that come with the tour book I agree to review. I find that those words often color the read for me and I think they often tell far too much of the story line and cancel my minds ability to imagine and discover. I quite often read each book twice, as I did for THE GODS OF HEAVENLY PUNISHMENT. The second read looks through eyes of what research the author acknowledges and the personal notes on hopes and expectations for the book and thanks to the editors and publishers. This novel was extensively researched and then rendered with a divine stroke of the pen to give the reader a crystal understanding faceted with elegance and grace. The book jacket uses the word meditation to describe this story telling and I would have to agree.

    All the shocking horror of war and that experience is right there and in one page you know it, and by the next page the reader is moving on and integrating the disgust and shock into the child’s growth and understanding. How could we ever have another war? This story does not leave the mind; it stays put. More can be found on Patricias Wisdom

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  • Posted May 16, 2013

    In fact, the publisher's summary is a little misleading. Epstein

    In fact, the publisher's summary is a little misleading. Epstein has crafted a novel that moves back and forth between multiple third-person narratives. Throughout, she keeps the book moving forward in time as she shifts settings, from 1935 Hamburg, New York to 1962 Los Angeles and gradually begins to intertwine her characters.

    I suppose the novel could be called "sweeping" moving as it does through time and back and forth across the Pacific. Curiously, I never felt like I was being swept up in a massive story; Epstein makes the novel very much the intimate stories of the people caught up in the war between Japan and the United States. Without casting judgment, Epstein uses her characters along with many real-life characters to explore the atrocities of war. Having just read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I was surprised to find myself back in Manchuria during the Japanese occupation but it also made me not ready to read about the torture of soldiers, a direction I was certain, at one point, the book was headed in. Instead, Epstein gives the reader only what is necessary at that point then moves on, only to smack me down later with the horror of the firebombing of Tokyo.

    The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is just the kind of historical fiction book I love - a new look at a time in history you might have thought had already been covered from every angle with an interesting blend of characters and a solid foundation in the facts.

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