The defining event of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is the firebombing of Tokyo in WWII. However, what the book is really about is people and the way they affect one another. Fifteen-year-old Yoshi’s experiences leading up to and following the firebombing will be “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.” (source)
I love books that, at their heart, are really about people. Jennifer Epstein does a spectacular job bringing the people in her story to life. Each time we meet a new character, we quickly get to the heart of their personality. By revealing each character’s most intimate hopes and fears, Epstein made them each feel so real I had a hard time believing they didn’t exist. As Leah at Books Speak Volumes and I recently discussed, something else that’s a lot of fun about these character driven novels is waiting to see how everyone connects. I loved seeing so many different sides of the war through a collection of interconnected stories.
One of the most impressive parts of the story is how the author conveyed the humanity and inhumanity on both sides of the war. She’ made me feel empathy people on both sides of the pacific at times, while at other times the actions of both sides horrified me. We spent a less time than I would have liked on my favorite story – Yoshi and Billy’s experiences at the end of the war – and one of the other stories was just too sad for me to enjoy. Other than that, I loved everything about this book. The writing is vivid, evocative, able to bring people to life. The plot intricately weaves these characters together into a beautiful, deceptively easy to follow story. The resulting picture of the war is more than the sum of its parts, giving a thought provoking picture of the war that no one viewpoint could have provided. I’ll be thinking about this one for quite some time to come.This review first published at Doing Dewey.