17986422Reviewed by Garret Rose

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, by Jennifer Cody Epstein weaves several lives before, during, and after World War II. The journey begins in Hamburg, New York with a simple and sweet budding romance. Cam and Lacy are having a great time on their first date in the benign introduction. The scene quickly shifts to Karuizawa, Japan where an American contractor, Anton Reynolds, his wife, his son Billy, and the Kobayashi family, consisting of Kenji, Hana, and little Yoshi are enjoying a meal. Unbeknownst to them, their lives will never feel as innocent and carefree as their dinner together.

Anton begins an extramarital affair with his business partner’s wife (Hana) and is discovered by his son Billy. Always afraid of his father, Billy says nothing about it and holds in all of the unanswered questions for the duration of the book. As the filial commitments fall from all sides of the family members, the tensions between the United States and Japan grows until the beginning of WWII. Anton and his family move back to the US, while Hana, and Yoshi stay in Tokyo. Kenji tries to expand the Japanese empire in Manchuria by building a community. The split from his wife and child have deeper cuts; ones that are never fully healed. As the war moves on, none of the characters’ lives will be the same.

Epstein brings the reader through the horrors of the war in a grotesquely beautiful way. One feels entrapped by the intermittent action and vivid imagery throughout. Although the story lines are intriguing, they are ultimately incomplete. At times it feels as if she bit off more than she can chew. At other times, the reader empathizes and feels the characters thoughts and actions. Overall, this is a journey that doesn’t quite reach its destination, but is still worthwhile for those who love historical fiction.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Garret loves literature! He is creating the Vernal Journal for his students as well as anyone else that is interested in literature – be it fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, or even miscellaneous! Garret’s goal is to share, review and make connections to the world and each other.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by W.W. Norton & Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.