May 20, 2013

Book Review: The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein


Title: The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein
Published March 11, 2013. W.W. Norton and Company
Genre: historical novel

My summary: This is a novel about the war between the Japanese and the Americans in WWII, the atrocities of war on both sides, and the innocent families and people affected both in the U.S. and in Japan. The fire bombing of the city of Tokyo in 1945 when innocent civilians were killed or maimed is the reason for the title, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment.  

My comments: I was confused while reading the book. I didn't know whether I should hate the Japanese for their war atrocities and killing downed American pilots during the war or hate the Americans for killing and maiming 100,000 innocent civilians in the later firebombing of Tokyo.

The book presents multiple points of view. We grow to detest a Japanese war criminal at the same time as we like his young daughter Yoshi and feel sorrow for his wife. We are dismayed at the execution of a young American pilot by Japanese troops in Manchuria and we feel pity for his wife. We are also appalled at the suffering and the death of civilians during the firebombing of Tokyo by American planes. At the end of the book, however, the various threads of the story are woven together and Yoshi makes a gesture of contrition to the wife of the American pilot killed during the war.

It is not an easy book to read. It is depressing in parts because the circumstances of war and the horrific effects on the people involved. Kudos to Jennifer Cody Epstein for tackling this subject and bringing all the elements together in a question of whether war justifies all actions. The book makes us think about the justification for killing innocents during war with its quote from one of the characters: "It's not murder! It's war."

For other reviews, visit Gods of Heavenly Punishment: TLC Virtual Book Tours

Publisher's description: A lush, exquisitely-rendered meditation on war, The God of Heavenly Punishment tells the story of several families, American and Japanese, their loves and infidelities, their dreams and losses, and how they are all connected by one of the most devastating acts of war in human history.

Jennifer Cody Epstein is also author of 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. To connect with Jennifer, “like” her on Facebook.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a review copy of this book.
Submitted to the 2013 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge and Cym Lowell's Book Review Link-Up Party and Saturday Review of Books hosted by Semicolon. 


  1. I love the cover, but it definitely sounds like a tough read...

  2. In war, all is lost... It seems Ms. Epstein has a fancy for the tragic, don't you think?

  3. That sounds like a cautionary tale that war is always bad for everybody. Challenging, for sure. But probably also pretty interesting.

  4. Excellent review, Harvee. It sounds like a harrowing book.

  5. I just finished The Girls of Atomic City and this sounds like it would be a good follow up, even if it is a tough read.

  6. Sounds like a compelling book. I really relate to what you wrote concerning your feelings about it. I have read a fair amount of history. Very often "the good guys" have done monstrous things. Sometimes the "bad guys" surprise one with acts of humanity. History is so complicated.

  7. To me, the fact that you didn't know which side to be angry with says a great deal about the author's ability to convey the complexities of war.

    Thank for being a part of this tour!

  8. Sounds too tough to read for me. But I tend to avoid books about or set during wars.

  9. Sounds like this book did exactly what it meant to: make you angry, see both sides, and ponder war. Excellent review!

  10. I'm visiting from Cym's. Sounds like this would be a great book for my Immigrant reading challenge! Thanks for the great review!

  11. The Gods of Heavenly Punishment sounds like a thought provoking read. I know what you mean, about not knowing whether to dislike the Japanese or the Americans.

  12. Visiting from Cym's book party.

    I couldn't get into this book.

    Nice review.

  13. Definitely a tough read but I am glad it left you feeling confused and conflicted. That's how war should be, in my opinion. Both sides have their reasons for fighting, even if we don't understand them. I think I might try this one when I am in the right mood.

  14. This one sounds very powerful. There was so much that happened during the war and atrocities on both sides. Painful to read but important!

  15. I'm reading N.T. Wright's "Simply Jesus" where in he says that there's no we're the good guys and you're the bad guys but in truth Satan is a horrific influence on us all. Sounds like a good book you've got here.

  16. sounds like a meaty read. like trish said, it sounds like it's about the evils of war and what people do in its name.

  17. This is a thoughtful review. Thanks for stopping by my blog and giving me a "heads up" on the book!
    Love your blog, Harvee. Your reviews are excellent.

  18. It was a hard book to read, but Epstein does a wonderful job showing all the gray areas when it comes to war. It really made me think.


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