The Gods of Heavenly Punishment

Fifteen-year-old Yoshi Kobayashi, child of Japan’s New Empire, daughter of an ardent expansionist and a mother with a haunting past, is on her way home on a March night when American bombers shower her city with napalm–an attack that leaves one hundred thousand dead within hours, and Tokyo in ashen ruins. In the days that follow, Yoshi’s old life will blur beyond recognition, leading her to a new world marked by destruction and shaped by those once 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 dangerous secret of his own. Directly or indirectly, each will play a role in shaping Yoshi’s journey as she seeks safety, love, and redemption…and find their own lives indelibly changed in the process.

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Praise for ‘The Gods of Heavenly Punishment’

“The firebombing is the climax of this sweeping novel by Epstein, but the story is really about the interconnected lives of several people and their families, both Japanese and American. At the center is Yoshi, a young woman with a fragile, glamorous mother and a traditional, contractor father, but there is also Cam Richards, an American pilot downed in the Doolittle Raid of 1942; his young wife, Lacy; and Anton, a successful architect responsible for modernizing Tokyo, but then later called on by the U.S. Army to help destroy it. There is also Anton’s son Billy, who grew up in Japan and years later returns as an Occupation soldier….This harrowing novel of destruction and creation will appeal to fans of historical fiction.”
Library Journal (starred) | full review
“An epic novel about a young Japanese girl during World War II underscores the far-reaching impact that the decisions of others can have. Epstein…presents a gripping story that centers around Yoshi Kobayashi, the product of an arranged marriage. The author thoughtfully describes the hellish realities of war: the lack of tolerance for, and unwillingness to understand, other cultures; the universal pain of loss and human suffering; the brutality of mankind as lives are torn asunder…Readers, particularly those who enjoy WWII fiction, will appreciate this story.”
Kirkus | Full Review
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.”
OPRAH.COM | full review
“From unspeakable wartime atrocities to the intricacies of courtships, friendships, and illicit affairs, Epstein’s second novel is bursting with characters and locales. Yet painful, authentic (Epstein has lived and worked in Asia), and exquisite portraits emerge of the personal impact of national conflicts—and how sometimes those conflicts can be bridged by human connections.”
Publishers Weekly | full review
“In her new novel, Cody Epstein searches into another overlooked corner of recent history: the firebombings of Tokyo, as experienced by four radically different people: Cam, a young American fighter pilot; Anton, a European architect working in Tokyo; Billy, Anton’s son, an Occupation soldier and a talented photographer; and Yoshi, a young Japanese girl who comes of age during—and because of—the war. The book is structured as a web of intimate portraits, so that we see each of these characters from inside and out. Their lives intersect in strange ways, some deliberate, some accidental, such that the plot itself is driven not only by large, distant political decisions, but also by these individuals’ desires, ambitions, and weaknesses.”
The Rumpus | full review
“So why should one read another account of World War II? This memorable time is magnificently portrayed by this knowledgeable, talented author. It’s a superb read, without being saccharine or hyped, and necessary historical fiction.”
Historical Novel Society
“[A] movingly beautiful novel dealing with Japan from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s. Author Jennifer Cody Epstein describes how people tended to divide life between “before” and “after”: before and after the war…the highlight and most dramatic chapter describes in amazingly terrifying detail the March 9-10, 1945 American bombardments of Tokyo that reduced the city to rubble and cost an estimated 100,000 lives, one of the worst atrocities of World War II.”
The Globalist | full review
“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
“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
“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
“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
“One of the most fascinating books that I’ve read so far this year… Epstein captures the essence of the time period and gives readers a whole new look at the horrors of war and the aftermath of Occupation.”
Sharon Galligar Chance, Times Record News

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