Book Review: A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

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Read between: 6th-15th of September
Format: ebook
Number of pages: 292
Published: December 1st 2015
Publisher: Penguin Books
Synopsis: 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?

Rating: 003d1-threestar

Review: I received this book from Penguin and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review and because I’m such a bad book blogger, I have only just got around to reading and reviewing it now….

When a man comes to Amaterasu’s door, claiming to be her grandson, Hideo, she is taken back to a darker time in her life. A time she remembers but probably wishes to forget. When Hideo comes to her door she is reminded of when the US Airforce dropped an atomic bomb on her home town of Nagasaki. ‘Pikadon’ she calls it- bright light. Pikadon stole her family away, so she obviously has a question. How can Hideo be here? I think it’s understandable that she doesn’t believe him at first. Who would?

The first thing I have to say about this book is that is was good to get a better understanding of what happened in Nagasaki (like Hiroshima) from a Japanese point of view- even if the story is a work of fiction, although the author having lived in Nagasaki for three years, despite not being Japanese, is very well informed and researched on the topic.

Amaterasu seems like what I picture an elderly Japanese woman living in the US to be, with a kind nature and also quite…closed in? That’s what I got from what I was reading. She definitely cares about those close to her, but the downside is that sometimes, to protect them, she has to form lies or do something she feels she needs to, without consulting those she’s doing it for. Even if it does get them out of difficult or dangerous situations.

The main bulk of the story was a little strange, as it came from Amaterasu creating stories and situations from the written word, from her deceased daughter, Yuko’s, diary entries. It was a little morbid in a sense, but it’s also an interesting piece of storytelling. Yuko is a girl who wears her heart on her sleeve, she’s naive but strong in her own way. We follow her story as she falls in love with a man much older than her, Jomei Sato, and discover that her parents are already planning to seperate them. Of course, they disapprove.

So they set her up with a matchmaker to find her a husband, and follow her as she marries a very different man, one her parents think is much more suited. At first, I was mad, but then it became clear that Amaterasu has her reasons.

She and Yuko are similar. She too, when she was much younger, fell for Sato. The author painted a picture of  man who takes advantage of young, pretty, girls, before leaving. He left Ama, he left Yuko- but unlike with her mother, Sato actually loved Yuko.

Yuko had no idea about her mother’s life when she was Yuko’s age. I think perhaps, if she had told her, they may have been closer. If they’d had a proper talk, like they had planned to before pikadon, perhaps Ama would have died too, perhaps Yuko may have survived, but they would have been on good terms.

That being said, all this had to happen to make Ama who she is when the story begins. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have finally accepted Hideo as the grandson she thought she had lost. Hideo was great- he let Amaterasu take her time to accept it, to get her head around the fact he really was her little Hideo, all grown up. He waited.

It was worth it for the happy ending.

She deserved it after everything she had lost.

3/5 stars, a lovely story, but sometimes some of Amaterasu’s character traits had me second guessing her character. I didn’t want to dislike her.

Thanks for reading!
~Katie

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