This is the novel I wish I could have written, and now I don’t have to think about it anymore. The reason I published Cherry Blossoms in Twilight is because there are almost no other narrative books that cover WWII from the Japanese civilian perspective. Along comes The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, recently released, to cover not only the sad civilian side but the horrific military and the Manchurian occupation viewpoints as well as U.S. perspectives. The character stories are bound together by a green-stoned ring belonging to a young American woman waiting for her new husband to return home. This book is a hard-hitting historical epic that will take your breath away.
Lacy, who marries Cam only to lose him as MIA as she raises the son he’s never seen
Cam, Lacy’s new husband, a B-25 bomber pilot in the Doolittle Raid
Billy, who grows up in Japan and returns to work for the U.S. Occupation
Anton, Billy’s architect father, has built embassies, hotels, and homes in Japan and later uses his skills to help the U.S. research to destroy Japan
Kenji, Anton’s Japanese master carpenter who moves on to work with the Japanese military in Manchuria
Hana, Kenji’s Japanese wife who is lost between Japan and the West
Yoshi, Hana and Kenji’s daughter who survives the firebombing and must rebuild her life
Masahiro, minor character, son of Kenji’s mistress, who is broken by his military experience
Author Jennifer Cody Epstein lived in Japan for five years and did quite a bit of research for this book, interviewing firebombing survivors and former bomber pilots (her dad), reading about the Japanese wartime mindset and the colonization of Manchuria. Her details match everything I have read about Japan before, during, and after WWII, and she created a multi-faceted story to tell these details with well-developed characters and complex relationships. She tells it like it is, so note there are language usages, horror, and adult situations that reflect the reality of the times. She does, however, convey this with the elegance of restraint, so those who are sensitive and fairly conservative (me) get the picture without having to wallow in it.
I can’t say enough good about this book. It’s about time these perspectives were captured, and it was done with painful beauty and eloquence despite the sordid and hideous details of war. Yes, war is hell for everyone involved, and that’s a lesson that bears repeating over and over and over. Thank you to Amused by Books for my copy of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment.
Inscription in the front of the book:
“The war is dreadful. It is the business of the artist to follow it home to the heart of the individual fighters—not to talk in armies and nations and numbers—but to track it home.” – D.H. Lawrence
You may enjoy the interview with Jennifer Cody Epstein posted on Amazon about the writing of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment.