Gods of Heavenly Punishment, Jennifer Cody Epstein

godsWar is ugly. It 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. Suddenly, 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. Suddenly, they are capable of doing things they didn’t know they ever would. Some are more obviously ruthless and barbaric, but even those that are not as obvious, are capable of causing death and destruction for masses of people. Nowhere is the conflict that we face in war more evident than in this novel, 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. They are both college students who serendipitously fall deeply in love. 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 May1935, we move to Karuizawa, Japan, where we meet several families at a gathering. They are the American builders who are working with the affluent Japanese businessman who is hosting the get together. Anton Reynolds and his wife Beryl are there with their young son, Billy. Hana and Kenji Kobayashi have a young daughter, Yoshi. She is playing with Billy who is captivated by his new camera, a Brownie, given to him by his mother for his birthday against his father’s better judgment. The scene is pleasant and polite on the surface. Kenji is a rigid man. Hana is a restless woman. She turns Anton’s head with ease. She is prone to defying the strict rules of the Japanese culture and you may think, at first, that he is caught very much off guard by her behavior. 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. Kenji and Anton, perceived at first as men in a working relationship, engaged in improving conditions in Japan, soon morph into men capable of causing great harm to innocents, by their actions willfully, by design, or following orders blindly. War creates soldiers out of all “men”.  It teaches hate.
After introducing the characters to us, fast forward into April of 1942. There is a war on and Campbell Richards, now married to Lacy, is carrying her mother’s ring with him for good luck, 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, Japan. With adverse weather conditions and low fuel, many of the pilots are not sure if they will be able to return safely afterwards. As Cam bails out of his crippled plane, somewhere over Manchuria, he realizes that as his wife was saying goodbye, she was trying to signal to him that she was pregnant and he was going to be a father.
For the next two decades, from 1942 until 1962, we follow the course of events that shape the lives of the families we first 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? Haven’t they committed atrocious acts, as well? Haven’t they suffered massive casualties and deaths? No one wins in war.
The war spread all over Europe and the Pacific, and on those two fronts, the carnage was like nothing anyone could have ever imagined before. This book, however, concerns itself largely with the war on one front, the one with Japan. The ruthless brutality that the Japanese soldiers and civilians were capable of was nothing short of barbaric. At the same time, the allies were responsible for the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocents, in perhaps, less personal ways, indirectly, by using weapons capable of causing massive destruction and harm rather than direct hand to hand physical cruelty and torture.
Who is to say which “enemy” was the more dangerous or cruel? It is in the eye of the beholder. For Americans reeling from Pearl Harbor, it was the Japanese and their kamikazes and there take no prisoner attitude. Their willingness to murder and torture, almost with pleasure, was beyond the ken of most people. For the Japanese, it was the fire-bombing of Tokyo and the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that defined cruelty. They did not see it as their just desserts for the crimes they had committed, aggressively attacking the United States without provocation. They did not easily accept defeat and literally fell on their swords rather than admit their failure.
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.


About omasvoice

Who am I? I am you. I am everyone out there who loves to read and discuss and voice an opinion!
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