On March 9-10 of 1945, the US military firebombed the city of Tokyo in what is said to be one of the most deadly air raids in history. For the people involved and the people affected, this event is understandably recalled in vastly differing ways. In her latest, Jennifer Cody Epstein illustrates this night in history, as well as the years leading up to and following the event, from the viewpoints of a handful of very different characters.
Yoshi Kobayashi has been raised loyal to her family and her country. Her father, the top builder at a firm owned by an American, is later involved in the establishment of a Manchurian colony, a site that will see more death than any imagined. Anton Reynolds was impressed by Tokyo so much so that after apprenticing under Frank Lloyd Wright on the building of the Imperial Hotel, he started his own firm in Tokyo. He and his family would remain in the city until war forced them out. Sadly Reynolds’s love for the city he once called home will fuel a weapon to be used against the Japanese while Kenji’s loyalty to his country will place his family in the crosshairs of this deadly campaign. Meanwhile, new pilot Cameron Richards dreams of a life with his new wife and child, a life that relies on his survival in an important mission.
While The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is overall a story of the firebombing of Japan, Epstein tells it in such a way that it almost reads as a collection of individual pieces connected by a common focus. Each section does tie nicely into the next, with each of the characters ultimately proving to be connected to one another in some way.
All in all, it’s a harrowing look at war from as many sides as you can imagine—those involved directly and indirectly, those who were at the center of the event, and those who were on the other side of the world waiting to hear the outcome. It’s a book filled with loss and horror but one also filled with hope.
2/14 Becky Lejeune
THE GODS OF HEAVENLY PUNISHMENT by Jennifer Cody Epstein. W. W. Norton & Company (January 13, 2014). ISBN 978-0393347883. 400p.