A Dictionary Of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton – 292 pages
When Amaterasu Takahashi opens the door of her Philadelphia home to a badly scarred man claiming to be her grandson, she doesn’t believe him. Her grandson and her daughter, Yuko, perished nearly forty years ago during the bombing of Nagasaki. But the man carries with him a collection of sealed private letters that open a Pandora’s Box of family secrets Ama had sworn to leave behind when she fled Japan. She is forced to confront her memories of the years before the war: of the daughter she tried too hard to protect and the love affair that would drive them apart, and even further back, to the long, sake-pouring nights at a hostess bar where Ama first learned that a soft heart was a dangerous thing. Will Ama allow herself to believe in a miracle?
My Review: 4.5 stars
A Dictionary Of Mutual Understanding is a slim book with a hefty filling. There are stories within stories, which adds to the depth of this satisfying read.
In the thousands of books I’ve read, I’m not sure I can pinpoint any in which the protagonist is a Japanese survivor of the bombing at Nagasaki. Hearing this story from her POV was insightful and at times, downright horrifying. She was not always likable but as her unusual past unfolds, we begin to appreciate her many layers and understand her radical actions.
The antagonist was described with such multifaceted detail, that I felt I could pick him out of a lineup, and then of course I’d slap him. The author does a fine job of letting us see the goodness in him by the end of the book, which I appreciated.
The title, which could have several meanings, is most representative in the start of each chapter with a Japanese word and its definition. Each chapter subtlety incorporates the meaning of that word within its confines. At first I was intrigued by these words, but then I found myself losing the pace of the novel so I skipped them altogether and went back after I finished to enjoy them more thoroughly.
This book will make a great discussion at book club. I’ve attached pictures of the Urakami Cathedral after the bombing and the statue erected there now in memory of the victims.
Quotes I liked:
Death’s greatest cruelty is to claim the wrong people.”
-“There can be no word for what we heard that day. There must never be. To give this sound a name might mean it could happen again.”
-“Until then, I will submit to my mother’s wishes. She is easier to handle when she thinks she is getting her own way.”
-“Are reminds us of what we have no time to see.”
-“We tell ourselves stories and they become our history.”
-“He sought satisfaction. I sought benefaction.”
-“You cannot judge what you do not understand.”