When people think of Japan and World War II, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are probably what come to mind. For some reason, people seem to forget the firebombing of Tokyo in March of 1945, but it claimed more lives than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, left millions homeless, and burned down half of Tokyo. Jennifer Cody Epstein’s The Gods of Heavenly Punishment revisits these attacks through the eyes of multiple narrators: Cam, a pilot who participated in the Doolittle Raid; his wife, Lacy; Anton, an architect who helped build some of the great buildings in Tokyo and who was then hired by the government to figure out the best way to burn Tokyo down; his son Billy, a soldier in the army who is sent to Tokyo during the Occupation; and a fifteen-year-old Japanese girl named Yoshi, who serves as the thread that holds all of the stories together.
The book moves forward chronologically, but each chapter alternates to a different point of view. As a result, readers get to imagine World War II from different perspectives: that of the anxious wife awaiting the return of her husband; of the soldiers (on both sides) who signed up for service for a variety of reasons and must bear witness to the aftermath of war; of the architects of all of the destruction, and most importantly, of the survivors.
This is a different type of World War II books than what people are used to; much as I love a good historical novel set in Nazi Germany, it was refreshing to hear about the war from a new angle. Even better is that Epstein’s book is a page-turner, and reading about the firebombing from the perspective of a person who was there as everything went up in flames was devastating. I was so easy to lose myself in all of the stories and try to figure out how they all fit. This is one that fans of historical fiction won’t want to skip.
The Gods of Heavenly Punishment was released ion paperback n January 2014 by W. W. Norton & Company. The book is on tour right now, so see what other bloggers are saying about it.