Early on in Empire of Glass, the novel’s American narrator offers fair warning that what follows will not be straightforward: “So much of what I’m telling you is already reimagined, reconfigured so convex angles are made concave, mirrors reflecting other mirrors reflecting an uncertain, setting sun.” That includes her name, Lao K (or “Familiar K”), a nickname her Chinese homestay family gave to replace “a long, complicated name we could never pronounce.”
Jennifer Cody Epstein’s The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is a sprawling novel, traversing the era of World War II from 1935 to the air-attack of mainland Japan in 1945, with an epilogue set in the early sixties. The time frame of the story is large, as are many of its scenes, such as Tokyo being firebombed or in the cockpit of a B-25 during Doolittle’s raid. This is a generous novel with heart. Epstein uses the simple device of a ring with a green stone to pull together the lives of characters from two sides of the Pacific Ocean, but the ring symbolizes a hope for a broader reconciliation. Though the two main combatants in the war for the Pacific have been allies for many decades, neither the U.S. or Japan have ever fully accounted for the devastation they wrought on each other: the U.S. decisions to firebomb and, ultimately, to drop atomic bombs on the civilian population of Japan and force its capitulation, as well as Japan’s choice to attack Pearl Harbor and commit war crimes in the Philippines and Manchuria.