cover image The Gods of Heavenly Punishment

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment

Jennifer Cody Epstein. Norton, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-07157-3

In Epstein’s expansive novel, American and Japanese lives converge and diverge in wartime. The novel follows the cultured Yoshi, a trilingual musician and product of a mismatched marriage—her mother a troubled, Westernized beauty; her father a working-class traditionalist. At the onset of WWII, young Yoshi, living alone with her mother in Japan, receives a ring from her father, who is living abroad. The ring once belonged to a young American pilot whose fate Yoshi’s father may be tied to. As the war escalates, Yoshi survives the Americans’ firebombing that obliterates Tokyo with “a roar so deafening that the screaming world went quiet.” After the war is over, Yoshi, working as a piano player in a brothel meets Billy, a shy GI carrying his own burden. Billy brings Yoshi closer to a new life—and to painful truths about her past and the original owner of her ring. From unspeakable wartime atrocities to the intricacies of courtships, friendships, and illicit affairs, Epstein’s second novel (after The Painter from Shanghai) is bursting with characters and locales. Yet painful, authentic (Epstein has lived and worked in Asia), and exquisite portraits emerge of the personal impact of national conflicts—and how sometimes those conflicts can be bridged by human connections. Agent: Elizabeth Sheinkman, WME Entertainment (formerly with Curtis Brown, U.K.). (Mar.)