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The Gods of Heavenly Punishment: A Novel

The Gods of Heavenly Punishment - Jennifer Cody Epstein War makes enemies of former friends and pits them against each other. War puts countries and people on different sides of issues that previously were of no concern to them. They are forced to design weapons to destroy the country and countrymen of those they once cared about and previously did not hold in contempt. Nowhere is the conflict that we face in war more evident than in this novel which is based on true events of our not so distant past.
The time is May 1935.The place is Hamburg, NY. There we meet Campbell Richards and Lacy Robertson. Stuck on a ferris wheel, they speak about his dreams of flying and her hidden fears. He is insecure, views himself as inadequate because he stutters, but is working very hard to get it under control. She is quite lovely and composed, more forward in her behavior, and he feels a bit out of his depth but very lucky to be with her.
Next, still in May 1935, we move to Karuizawa, Japan, where we meet several families at a gathering. Anton Reynolds and his wife Beryl are there with their young son, Billy. Hana and Kenji Kobayashi have a young daughter, Yoshi. The scene is pleasant and polite on the surface, but as the story moves on, you may change your mind about your initial opinions of several of the characters. The men, while expecting proper decorum from their family members, often defy convention themselves.
Now fast forward into April of 1942. We are with Campbell Richards as he ships out to sea on the Hornet. He is a pilot, part of the Doolittle Raiders, and his mission is to drop bombs on Tokyo. With adverse weather conditions and low fuel, many of the pilots are not sure if they will be able to return safely afterwards.
For the next two decades, from 1942 until 1962, we follow the course of events that shape the lives of the families we met, before the war, in 1935, when there was only a hint of what was to come. We watch as their lives intersect, finally bringing some justice, resolution and reconciliation to all of them. Some of what we learn and witness through their eyes will shock us. Some of it will make us realize the futility of it all. In the end, what is really accomplished with war but death and destruction? Someone wins and someone loses, but is it really as clear as that? Aren’t the winners, losers too?
This book concerns itself largely with the war on one front, the one with Japan. Who is to say which “enemy” was the more dangerous or cruel? For Americans reeling from Pearl Harbor, it was the Japanese and their kamikazes and their take no prisoner attitudes, their brutal treatment of POW's. For the Japanese, it was the fire-bombing of Tokyo and the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that defined cruelty.
The first two segments of the book seemed too light in character when compared to the more serious nature of the subject matter in the rest of the novel. They almost seemed to have been written by a different author. The use of crude language, even though it was rare, did nothing to enhance the novel, but rather it detracted from it and distracted this reader’s attention. The inclusion of a homosexual character seemed contrived and I was hard pressed to figure out why it was necessary. It didn’t improve the plot or create greater interest.
Overall, however, the characters were well developed, the subject matter was of great concern, and the novel was engaging and will captivate the reader.
I recommend it as a good read and as a novel book clubs will enjoy discussing.