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.
I’m not normally a reader of war novels and thankfully The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is more than a war novel. The war itself drives the novel forward and pieces together the entangled lives of all the characters, but the story is more about the heartlessness of war, heartbreak, resilience, and human nature. The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is a detailed historical fiction that doesn’t shy away from the harder side of war and life.
There’s sensitive issues delved into and for most of the story I was quite depressed. It was easy to forget this story was a historical fiction. I found myself wishing characters wouldn’t get harmed and there would be happy endings, but of course the war did happen and the Tokyo bombing actually took place. I would then remember no matter what there would be blood-shed and despair regardless the twists The Gods of Heavenly Punishment took and happy endings were going to be short in supply.
I don’t believe there is anything light in The Gods of Heavenly Punishment. Nothing is glossed over or sugar-coated. Especially not the emotions the characters experience or the horrible scenes of war and the bombing on Tokyo. Even when the story is more removed from the action I found myself wanting to cringe. Times such as when Anton, the architect with a love of Japan, constructed Japanese buildings in order for the US to practice destroying them. It was so sad. No matter how far away from the war the characters got, they were always in the heart of it.
Personally, as moved as I was, I didn’t find myself riveted. I felt the phrases and descriptions were too convoluted for my tastes and in the end it wasn’t a care for the characters to get me reading, or the desire to find out what happens, but the intricacy of how everyone is connected. I didn’t realise it to begin with, but eventually it was Yoshi the story was centred on. She was connected to everyone in some way, shape, or form, and so became the main protagonist. The layers of story telling and links set to keep each character connected, and in the reader’s mind, was wonderful to discover and fascinating to see unfold.
If you love war novels, but want something with more story you’re probably going to love The Gods of Heavenly Punishment. There’s so much wonderful culture and depth of character within the story, it would amaze me if any reader wasn’t moved even slightly.
- Genre: Historical Fiction – Contemporary Fiction Add to Goodreads
- Rating Out of Five: ♥♥*
- Meet The Author: Website – Twitter – Facebook
- Format: ePub Published: January 13, 2014, by W. W. Norton & Company
- Special Thanks To: TLC Book Tours
- Find At: The Book Depository UK – Book Depository US – Amazon US – BookFari AU
This review is part of Jennifer Cody Epstein’s book tour with TLC Book Tours. Find out more about the tour and all the stops here.
You can find more tour information and upcoming events by clicking through to TLC Book Tours.