Four or five years ago I had just joined a new synagogue and had taken my oldest son Jake to a program one evening. Our rabbi was also new, and in a conversation that evening about books he mentioned that his sister-in-law is a writer. I figured I probably wouldn’t know of her because I tend to read books set in Asia. What were the chances?
But when he said her name, I not only knew who she was, I’d also read her debut novel! Jennifer Cody Epstein made waves back in 2008 with The Painter from Shanghai (W.W. Norton). It’s one of my favorite novels ever.
This year she came out with her second novel, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment (Norton), which I’ve also read and loved. It is set mainly in the years before and during WWII, and centers around the US bombing of Tokyo. Tonight I had the honor of meeting her at a reading in the Chicago area.
For her reading, she chose one of my favorite passages, when the bold and glamorous Hana Kobayashi seduces rigid American architect Anton Reynolds during lunch at the fabulous Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.
I so enjoyed chatting with her about The Gods of Heavenly Punishment and Asia in general before her reading and while she signed many copies of both books at the end of the event. And of course she was so kind to take this photo with me.
Jennifer lived in Asia for almost a decade and formally studied Japanese language, history, politics, and culture in college and graduate school. With such a rich background, it was impossible to for her to get that all across in her reading. But it certainly shines through in her writing.
I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us in the future!