Thursday, January 9, 2014

From the Pacific Theater

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Eppstein
: January 13, 2014 by W. W. Norton & Company
Originally Published: March 11, 2012
Through the years I've read a lot about WWII, except I think this is the first I've read that dealt with the war in Japan. Which is a bit ironic in a way, because my own grandfather fought in Japan in WWII. While I've always known that, I've never given much thought to what it must have been like, or what actually happened there till reading this book. (Again ironically the B-52 Mitchell bomber, which my grandfather flew in, is flown by one of the characters in this book.)
Seymour Gibbs and Okinawa Villagers - 1945
My grandfather (front row, center) in Okinawa, 1945
The book starts with two chapters before the war, the first in New York and the second in Japan, that set the scene for what's to come. In these chapters we meet 5 specific characters, and from then on each following chapter focuses on a specific individual and how the war has impacted them. But each time we're only given a window into a single, short moment, and it's only together they tell an entire story.

It is an interesting way to tell a story, and while it could be confusing, I thought it flowed beautifully. There are parts you you almost expect, but that's because it's written in a way that it builds towards something specific. And while you don't leave the story with everything tied up in a pretty bow, you did at least by the novel's end have a feeling of completeness about each of the characters.
December 1945 Holiday Card from US Occupation Forces in Japan
From my grandfather's WWII mementos
I think this book spoke to me in so many ways, partly because of my family history, but also because I've been to Japan. I'd recognize certain districts of Tokyo that I'd been to and recall them in my mind. Except what I didn't realize till later is that Tokyo was almost destroyed during the war, so the Tokyo I visited in 2008 has almost nothing left from before the war.

There is a bit of sadness and awful events in this, but that should be expected in a book about a war. Instead though, the part that brought me to tears wasn't a moment of sadness, but at the novel's close when a character looks back on an almost perfect moment, before everything changed, before the war.


Disclosure: I was provided this book through Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. All opinions expressed are my own.


  1. I'm always looking to add more Asian historical fiction to my reading lists. I'll keep an eye out for this one.

  2. This sounds like a really good read.

  3. Great review! I loved this book, too.

  4. This sounds like a good, but sad read. I need to read a bit more and maybe check iy out from library. Thanks for the review.