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The Gods of Heavenly Punishment: A Novel Hardcover – March 11, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (March 11, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039307157X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393071573
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,228,973 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is a page-turner thanks to its high-stakes adventure, torrid love affairs and characters so real they seem to follow you around. And in the end, this gripping novel asks us not just to consider a lost chapter of a famous war but also to explore what it means to be lucky—and what it means to be loved.” (Amy Shearn - O Magazine)

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment showcases war's bitter ironies as well as its romantic serendipities.” (Megan O'Grady - Vogue)

“An epic novel about a young Japanese girl during World War II underscores the far-reaching impact that the decisions of others can have.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Jennifer Cody Epstein’s triumphant second novel is a big, visceral, achingly humane portrait of wartime Japan and several Americans charged with building and destroying it. The sweep of Epstein’s vision is matched by her empathetic attention to the smallest details in the lives of the people who inhabit it.” (Jennifer Egan, author of A Visit from the Goon Squad)

“Jennifer Cody Epstein depicts the firebombing of Tokyo and concurrent events in unflinching but delicately rendered detail. Immaculately researched and deeply imagined, this is an astonishing novel whose battles and intimate encounters alike carry the force of electric jolt. I have never read anything else like it.” (Angela Davis-Gardner, author of Butterfly's Child)

“I dare you to read this and not be swept up. The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is shocking and delicate in equal measure.” (Debra Dean, author of The Mirrored World and The Madonnas of Leningrad)

“Beautifully researched and evoked, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment brings to haunting, dramatic life one of the most destructive acts of warfare ever perpetrated. In its passion and sweep, this lovely book does artful justice to the profound, contradictory connections between victims and victors, public histories and private lives.” (John Burnham Schwartz, author of The Commoner and Reservation Road)

“With the drama and sweep of The English Patient and a rich, painterly sensibility all her own, Jennifer Cody Epstein has created an indelible portrait of the war in the Pacific, seen through the eyes of six characters whose stories will haunt you long after the final brush stroke.” (Hillary Jordan, author of Mudbound)

About the Author

Jennifer Cody Epstein is the author of the international best-selling novel The Painter from Shanghai. She lived for five years in Japan, first as a student and then as a journalist. She now lives in New York with her husband and two daughters.

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Customer Reviews

The characters were compelling and their stories were interwoven beautifully.
As Epstein fills in the pieces it makes the story more interesting and made me want to keep reading to find what happened and what will happen.
Thomas Paul
The characters in this novel felt very real to me and, as a result, I was fully immersed in their story lines and cared about their fates.
Melissa J.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By booksandbliss VINE VOICE on February 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was unfamiliar with the author at first but am so glad I chose this book. I found it a thoroughly enjoyable read and I am now looking forward to following Ms. Epstein's work.

I won't summarize the story as the other reviewers have already done so, so I'll just say that I don't typically read a lot of historical fiction and I was pleasantly surprised by Epstein's novel. The story is just substantive enough to feel satisfying (and educational) yet not so heavy that I feel I have to trudge through it. I found the balance between the personal stories of the characters and the historical backdrop and details to be perfect. I also enjoyed Epstein's writing - lyrical and beautiful but never overly ornate. I was eager to turn the pages all the way through and emerged a fan of historical fiction, and I look forward to reading more about Japan and China.

I'll also add that the gentleness depicted on the beautiful cover belies the difficult themes that appear inside the book: war atrocities, infidelity, betrayal, survival, etc. However, it never feels too heavy or too much. Some readers who may want a heavier, deeper or more in-depth treatment of these themes may find this novel somewhat deficient in that sense. For what I was looking for, though - an entertaining and educational read - this was quite satisfying.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It takes a special writer to produce an "epic" novel. "Epic" and "sweeping" imply a great breadth of a story line in terms of both time and characters. Jennifer Cody Epstein deserves kudos for her new novel, "The Gods of the Heavenly Punishment", which takes the reader from Tokyo 1935 to Los Angeles 1962, with characters who are as different as Japanese and Americans can be in that era. The unifying point of the novel is a green ring that survives both love and war and brings those two "different" peoples together.

Jennifer Epstein concentrates on relationships in her story. Oh, yes, there are large events like the 1945 fire bombing of Tokyo that destroyed most of the city, and, earlier, the Doolittle raid in 1942. That raid, flown by brave US army airmen, struck the first blow after Pearl Harbor on the Japanese home island. Many of the planes didn't have enough fuel to return safely to the ships they had taken off from and crashed into Japanese-controlled mainland China. Their crews, the ones who survived the crashes, were often captured, tortured, and sometimes put to death by their Japanese captors. But Epstein looks at the relationships in both the American and Japanese home fronts and how the Doolittle raid and the fire bombing and the fighting devastated lives in both places.

But if Epstein examines war, she also looks at the peacetime which preceded and succeeded the war. The prewar years in both countries was a time when the protagonists met and, sometimes, fell in love. Some fell in lust, and some just fell into relationships that differed from any they had experienced before. The post war period, too, produced changes in character's lives; losses and uncertainties were acknowledged and somehow made right.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ellis Bell VINE VOICE on April 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is set during WWII, and specifically focuses on the American firebombing of Tokyo in 1942 and 1945. We are introduced to Yoshi Kobayashi, the daughter of an expansionist; Cam, a bomber pilot taken prisoner by the Japanese; and Anton, an American architect, who had helped build some of Tokyo's modern buildings in the 1920s and `30s but is enlisted to build test structures for the American air force to practice.

Epstein has chosen an event that rarely gets written about in fiction, yet caused so much devastation at the same time; in the Operation Meetinghouse attack of 1945, 16 square miles of Tokyo were destroyed, approximately 100,000 people were killed, and over a million lost their homes. It was the deadliest air raid of WWII. So I was very interested to read about this lesser-known period of history and witness it through the eyes of these characters--especially Yoshi, who finds herself directly impacted by the 1945 raid. Jennifer Cody Epstein writes beautifully, and her description of what happens to these characters is riveting.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Someone Else TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There's a lot going on in this novel, but it's not as hard to follow as it may seem at the start. It traces the lives of several American and Japanese people before, during, and after World War II. Some of them are friends, suddenly cast into enemy positions because their countries are at war.

The firebombing of Tokyo is central to the story simply because it's the definitive separation between "before" and "after," but the novel is multi-layered. There's not a great deal of space given to the firebombing itself and its effects on the city as a whole directly following the event. Rather than a recitation of horror and devastation, the focus is more on how the girl Yoshi's life was altered.

The most moving example for me of the struggles of conscience when war makes enemies of friends is shown in the character of Anton Reynolds. He's an American architect who spent many years living in Tokyo, designing its beautiful buildings. Back home in America as the war drags on, his knowledge of Japanese architecture puts him in the position of assuring the success of the firebombing of Tokyo. He tells himself again and again, "It's not murder. It's war." But how can he convince himself of that as he helps to destroy the city he loved and its citizens who were his friends?

Aside from some anachronistic language (e.g. "man up"), this is a well-written and believable blend of fact and fiction. Highly recommended for fans of the genre.
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