The firebombing of Tokyo during World War Two forms the centerpiece of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, a novel that follows the lives of several people before and after the war. Cameron is an American pilot, newly married, who takes part in the firebombing mission only for things to go wrong afterwards. Yoshi is the daughter of a Japanese father intent on capturing Manchuria and a Westernised mother. She gets caught up in the bombing and must deal with the consequences. Anton is an architect who lived in Japan but who is now involved in designing Japanese buildings in America, so the military can practise destroying them. The lives of all the characters intertwine as they are changed by one dramatic event, the firebombing.
From the cover of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, I was expecting quite a gentle read, but it was anything but! The actual firebombing itself is graphically described and the novel doesn't shy away from the grittier side of life. There are no guaranteed happy endings for any of the characters and Epstein does a great job at showing how brutal war is, as the killing is indiscriminate. In addition to this, the novel also deals with homophobia and how cities are permanently changed after war. Yoshi was living comfortably before the attack but after the destruction, she is forced down paths she never expected she would have to go.
I was extremely impressed by the writing in The Gods of Heavenly Punishment. Epstein has a lot of characters to deal with but she manages to keep them all distinct in the reader's mind and manages to give a sense of their personalities in a very short time. This meant that the book quickly sucked me in and I rushed through it in only two days, as I couldn't put it down. I'll definitely be getting hold of her other book, The Painter from Shanghai.
The only complaint I have with the book is that sometimes the links between characters felt contrived. A bit like how everyone knows each other in Dickens' London, all of the characters in this story were linked in ways that just wouldn't happen in real life. I don't mind a few coincidences, but there seemed to be a few too many of them. Despite this, I really enjoyed reading The Gods of Heavenly Punishment and think it's a great example of a historical fiction book that can pack a punch.
Source: Review copy via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Score: 4.5 out of 5
- Shanghai Girls by Lisa See - Another novel that examines the destruction of a city in Asia, as Japanese forces occupy Shanghai. This one also doesn't shy away from portraying the gritty effects.
- Next to Love by Ellen Feldman - This one links in with the Cameron storyline. What was it like for the families of American soldiers during World War Two and afterwards, when they returned home?