Reading Group Guide:
The Gods of Heavenly Punishment

  1. Discuss the conflicted, passionate character of Hana Kobayashi.What is the source of her vulnerability and loneliness?
  2. Kenji Kobayashi and Anton Reynolds both commit horrific crimes against humanity during the war, but neither character comes off as purely villainous. Discuss the moral ambiguity at the heart of the novel. How do you judge these characters?
  3. When Yoshi is surprised and terrified by the firebombs that rain down on her city, the reader has seen the attack being planned. What is the effect of our knowing more than Yoshi does, in this instance?
  4. There is a terrible irony to the fact that Anton is able to help plan the firebombing of Tokyo only because he knows the city so intimately. Later, there is a tragic irony to the fact that Lacy’s “come-back-to- me-safely ring” does indeed come back safely. Where else is irony at work in the novel?
  5. Yoshi, Cam, and Billy all have troubled relationships with their parents. Describe these relationships. How do they differ and what do they have in common?
  6. Both Yoshi and Billy pass from innocence to maturity over the course of the novel. Describe how both characters change and what forces them to change.
  7. Discuss Billy and Yoshi’s meeting in the brothel, from Billy’s perspective. What is it about his encounter with Yoshi, and about returning to a changed, war-torn Japan after so many years, that helps shy, nervous Billy act so bravely?
  8. How does the war bring people together, in addition to tearing them apart? Discuss some of the relationships formed in the novel during wartime.
  9. Yoshi’s life as she knew it has ended. Do you think she finds redemption? If so, how?
  10. Yoshi tells Lacy that she lost her husband in the war. Describe Yoshi’s relationship with her husband, Masa. What has the war done to him? What does it mean to lose someone in the sense that Yoshi means it?
  11. Yoshi’s hawk; Billy’s camera; Hana’s book of D. H. Lawrence poems; Lacy’s ring: many of the characters in the novel carry talismans, objects from their past that seem almost to be imbued with magical powers. What is the significance of these objects in the novel? Do you have any objects like this in your life? In your family’s history?
  12. Look back at the opening scene of the novel, with Cam and Lacy on the Ferris wheel. Do you experience the beauty and innocence of that scene differently once you’re aware of the events to come? Was your family affected by World War Two? Do you know anyone who had an experience like Yoshi’s, Billy’s, Lacy’s, or Cam’s?
The Gods of Heavenly Punishment / cover image