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Friday, June 14, 2013

"The Gods of Heavenly Punishment" by Jennifer Cody Epstein~Chilling and Engaging


A lush, exquisitely rendered meditation on war, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment tells the story of several families, American and Japanese, their loves and infidelities, their dreams and losses, and how they are all connected by one of the most devastating acts of war in human history.

In this evocative and thrilling epic novel, fifteen-year-old Yoshi Kobayashi, child of Japan’s New Empire, daughter of an ardent expansionist and a mother with a haunting past, is on her way home on a March night when American bombers shower her city with napalm—an attack that leaves one hundred thousand dead within hours and half the city in ashen ruins. In the days that follow, Yoshi’s old life will blur beyond recognition, leading her to a new world marked by destruction and shaped by those considered the enemy: Cam, a downed bomber pilot taken prisoner by the Imperial Japanese Army; Anton, a gifted architect who helped modernize Tokyo’s prewar skyline but is now charged with destroying it; and Billy, an Occupation soldier who arrives in the blackened city with a dark secret of his own. Directly or indirectly, each will shape Yoshi’s journey as she seeks safety, love, and redemption.


Twitter Hashtag: #HeavenlyPunishmentTour
Publication Date: March 11, 2013
Published by:  W.W. Norton & Company
Hardcover; 384p
ISBN-10: 039307157X
Author:  Jennifer Cody Epstein
Website:  http://www.jennifercodyepstein.com


I am an unrepentant book addict and the author of The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, as well as the international bestseller The Painter from Shanghai. I have also written for The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, The Nation (Thailand), Self and Mademoiselle magazines, and the NBC and HBO networks, working in Kyoto, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok as well as Washington D.C. and New York. I’ve taught at Columbia University in New York and Doshisha University in Kyoto, and have an MFA from Columbia, a Masters of International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a BA in Asian Studies/English from Amherst College. I currently live in Brooklyn, NY with my husband, filmmaker Michael Epstein, my two amazing daughters and an exceptionally needy Springer Spaniel.


We are pleased to be able to bring you this personal interview today with Jennifer Cody Epstein.  Thanks for taking time out from your very busy schedule to be with us, Jennifer!  Let's start out...

1)      Tell us something about yourself, please.  How do most people describe you?

Hmmm….honestly? I’d say it depends on the person. My friends might describe me as thoughtful, chatty, self-deprecating, bookish, in love with shoes and always up for a night out. My husband would say I’m terrible in the morning (which I guess goes with the up-for-a-night-out thing), not the world’s best housekeeper (ha!) but a good best friend and mother. My dog (whom I consider an honorary person) would say I’m awesome.

2)     Briefly, from where did the idea for your novel germinate?

Ever since living in Japan (which I did for five years) I’ve been fascinated by the US/Japan dynamic and our complicated but incredibly rich history together. I knew I wanted to write about it, but I didn’t really know where to start until my husband—who is a filmmaker--came back from an interview he’d just conducted with a military lawyer on the topic of war crimes. He told me that the Tokyo firebombing is widely considered to fall into that category today and asked me what I knew about it—which (to my chagrin), I realized was very little. So I began to research the event, and was floored by both how profoundly destructive it was and how little anyone seems to know about it in general.

3)     Who first told you that you could write well, and how did it affect you?

Miss Markey, my creative writing teacher in third grade, was the first one to really encourage me with my writing, though my sixth-grade teacher Mr. Kahane was also super-supportive. He helped me win the coveted “Author’s Corner” spot in our middle school, where I had a short story I’d written—I think it was about a magic swingset—posted on the wall by the principle’s office. Along with an appropriately broody-looking author’s photo.

4)     Which contemporary authors do you most admire?

That’s such a hard question, since I admire so many of them. I’d have to say Jennifer Egan is somewhere at the top, however—I find the craft of her sentences truly breathtaking. I love Sarah Waters’ work as well—The Night Watch was one of my favorite books in recent years. And Toni Morrison has written two of my favorite books ever: The Bluest Eye and Beloved. I also really admire the works of Joanna Hershon and Hillary Jordan, both of whom I am lucky enough to share work with.

5)     Which are your favorite classical authors?

If you can consider Nabakov classical, I’d say he tops my list—he’s got an ability to both innovate in his storytelling and manipulate the English language in a way no other author I know can do (and English wasn't even his first language!). Lewis Carroll is also a longstanding favorite, as is Edith Wharton and Henry James.

6)     Jump into any book~which character would you be?

Another tricky question! I’d say at the moment, though, I’d opt for Ursula Todd in Kate Atkinson’s most recent novel Life After Life. She does die several grisly deaths in the book, but the fact that she gets to keep coming back and try living again over and over gives her character’s storyline extra bang-for-the-buck. Plus, she kills Hitler.

7)     If you could have 5 historical people to dinner, who would they be?  What would you have to eat?

Pan Yuliang, the prostitute-turned-painter who became one of China’s early pioneers of Western-style painting (and the subject of my first novel) would be one of them for sure. Anais Nin would be another. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald seem like they’d be interesting and entertaining additions. And lastly, since we’d need another guy, James Doolittle—the dashing aviation legend who led the 1943 Doolittle Raid to Japan (which I explore in The Gods of Heavenly Punishment).  To eat we’d probably have French food, including really pungent cheese, foie gras and some super-decadent dessert.  

8)     Read any good books in the past 6 months?

Life After Life was, as I said, really wonderful and a very unique reading experience. I also loved Joanna Hershon’s A Dual Inheritance, which I read in the early draft stages but got to read as a finished novel this winter. I loved Butterfly’s Child by Angela Davis-Gardner, and Debra Dean’s The Mirrored World, and also really enjoyed Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove and Heidi Julavits’ The Vanishers.

9)     Favorite two tv shows:

A month ago I (like almost everyone else I know) would have said Game of Thrones was one, but it’s gotten so violent that I haven’t been able to bring myself to turn it on for the last couple of episodes! I’m going into Tyrion Lannister/Peter Dinkel withdrawal, however, so I think I may have to just suck it up and go back to it one of these days. The other show that’s become something of an obsession for my family is Once Upon A Time, which follows a small New England town that happens to be full of fairy tale characters. I love it because it’s engaging for all of us without being too “adult” for my kids, who are 9 and 12.

10)  Favorite movie of all time:

La Dolce Vita.

11)   Are you working on a new book?

I’m actually researching two (!) One is set in California and Germany, the other in Southeast Asia. I haven’t figured out which one I want to write yet—or maybe which one I want to write first. They’re very different thematically, though both will have historical elements to them.

12)  Anything else I forgot to ask you?

I don’t think so….but thanks for some fun and thought-provoking questions!
Such interesting answers!  I'm particularly intrigued by your favorite "La Dolce Vita" movie!  And, it's fun to see who you'd have for dinner...great choices there.  I'd love to be a part of that one.  Zelda is one of my favorite historical figures.  I hope I get a chance to read one or both of your new books when they come out.  I'll be the first in line, Jennifer!
Chilling, absorbing, unique, humorous and heart-breaking.  All those adjectives come to mind when I think to describe Jennifer Cody Epstein's book "The God's of Heavenly Punishment."  It's part historical account churned with love stories and family dysfunction.  It's character-driven in the most powerful of ways.  This is a book I will remember among the many this year.
I have read several accounts of the war between America and Japan, but none so specifically personal as this one.  The characters are captivating, as immediate relationships with the reader are cultivated.  The impact of their stories is both devastating in parts and heart-tugging.  I found each of them immensely engaging; some endearing, and some stone cold hateful.  The humorous moments take one by surprise in several instances. Either way, it was as if I couldn't tear my eyes away from them.
This is a novel told in sections from the perspectives of the different nationalities/countries and characters, which gives it an even more significant impact.  Because of the way Epstein chose to structure her story, I was sympathetic to both sides, as well as to the neutral view.  War in all it's human drama was staggering in her hands, sometimes brutal and sometimes drawing out the best in people with love.
"The Gods of Heavenly Punishment" is a show-stopper of a book.  You won't be able to put it down once you start reading.  It halted my life for hours. 
I recommend this book to everyone without reservation.  It's a very adult book in the sense that it's written with intelligence and aplomb.  You can't help but be taken in by its significance and engaging quality.  I loved it!
5+ stars                            Deborah/TheBookishDame
This review and interview are brought to you in cooperation with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, although the review is strictly my own opinion and have no bearing on that fact.
Please find more information, reviews, guest posts and interviews by clicking on this link to their website:  http://hfvirtualbooktours.com


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