Tuesday, February 4, 2014

TLC BOOK TOURS and REVIEW: The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein


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.

Paperback, 382 pages
Published January 13th 2014 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published March 11th 2012)
ISBN  0393347885 (ISBN13: 9780393347883)

About the Author
from the author's website

I am an unrepentant book addict and the author of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, as well as the international bestseller The Painter from Shanghai. I have also written for The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, The Nation (Thailand), Self and Mademoiselle magazines, and the NBC and HBO networks, working in Kyoto, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok as well as Washington D.C. and New York. I’ve taught at Columbia University in New York and Doshisha University in Kyoto, and have an MFA from Columbia, a Masters of International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a BA in Asian Studies/English from Amherst College. I currently live in Brooklyn, NY with my husband, filmmaker Michael Epstein, my two amazing daughters and an exceptionally needy Springer Spaniel.

Check out the author's website
Contact the author by email

My Thoughts
The climb felt almost arduous, the engine juddering and restarting four times during the creaking ascent up.
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 next month, 334 B-29s took off to raid on the night of 9–10 March ("Operation Meetinghouse"), with 279 of them dropping around 1,700 tons of bombs. Fourteen B-29s were lost. Approximately 16 square miles (41 km2) of the city were destroyed and some 100,000 people are estimated to have died in the resulting firestorm, more immediate deaths than either of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The US Strategic Bombing Survey later estimated that nearly 88,000 people died in this one raid, 41,000 were injured, and over a million residents lost their homes. The Tokyo Fire Department estimated a higher toll: 97,000 killed and 125,000 wounded. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department established a figure of 124,711 casualties including both killed and wounded and 286,358 buildings and homes destroyed. Richard Rhodes, historian, put deaths at over 100,000, injuries at a million and homeless residents at a million.- from Wikipedia
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.
But do you fight barbarism with barbarism? The Japanese had no idea what they were dealing with when they attacked Pearl Harbor. They awakened a mighty and dangerous beast, and the US dealt them a death blow without conscience.
It reminded him of something repulsive he'd read somewhere; a comment made by the Army general who'd led the air raids in Europe: "If you kill enough of 'em," he'd said, "they stop fighting."
I still have about 20 pages left, but 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.
"So you see," she said, forcing a laugh (it felt like all her laughter was forced these days), "since we are all the Emperor's children we must have some sunshine inside us. But sometimes I feel like my-- like my sunshine is flickering out. And so I lie under the sun to light it up again." Where had that come from?

Yoshi frowned up at her, chewing her bottom lip. "Maybe I could light it for you," she said at last.

The words seemed to stop Hana's heart. "You do," she told her...
I was curious about the title of this book, but then that was answered later on in the story. 
Yoshi's last sight of her was like something she'd seen once in an old painting in a temple; something their teacher had called a "Hell Scroll." Entitled The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, it showed a huge, fiery demon consuming tiny people limb by limb, surrounded by more flames and staggering, fire-limned figures.
My final word: I'm really loving this book! I think I will recommend it to my book club, which tends to choose books with strong female characters. 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.
What kind of a people, she wondered, does what was done that day and then has no concept of the enormity of their act?
A powerful story beautifully told.

Buy Now:
Barnes and Noble

I would like to thank TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. Check out the website for the full tour schedule:

Monday, January 13th:  No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, January 13th:  Now is Gone – giveaway
Tuesday, January 14th:  A Bookish Way of Life

Tuesday, January 14th:  Kritter’s Ramblings
Wednesday, January 15th:  Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Friday, January 17th:  The Best Books Ever
Sunday, January 19th:  Writer Unboxed - author guest post
Tuesday, January 21st:  Bookish Ardour
Wednesday, January 22nd:  Bookfoolery
Thursday, January 23rd:  She Treads Softly
Friday, January 24th:  A Reader of Fictions
Wednesday, January 29th:  Book-a-licous Mama
Thursday, January 30th:  Kahakai Kitchen
Tuesday, February 4th:  Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Wednesday, February 5th:  Bibliotica
Thursday, February 6th:  Lavish Bookshelf
Thursday, February 13th:  The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Friday, February 14th:  Books are the New Black

My Rating:


I received a copy of this book to review through TLC Book Tours and the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

1 comment:

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

I think your book club would find a lot to discuss in Yoshi's story. I hope they enjoy it as much a you did.

Thanks for being on the tour! I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.