Friday, 9 September 2016

A Dictionary Of Mutual Understanding - Jackie Copleton


Amaterasu Takahashi has spent her life grieving for her daughter Yuko and grandson Hideo, who were victims of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.

Now a widow living in America, she believes that one man was responsible for her loss; a local doctor who caused an irreparable rift between mother and daughter.

When a man claiming to be Hideo arrives on her doorstep, she is forced to revisit the past; the hurt and humiliation of her early life, the intoxication of a first romance and the realisation that if she had loved her daughter in a different way, she might still be alive today.


The story begins with 50 year old Hideo arriving at his grandmother's (Amaterasu) house claiming to be her grandson. The novel then travels back and forth in time as Amaterasu relives the previous years and how she came to be in America. Amaterasu reads letters and a journal to take the reader with her back over those years. Some of which is news to Amaterasu and very moving.

One of the final glimpses of her with her young grandson is the last day she takes him to school - an ordinary act. But that day was the one the nuclear bomb fell on Nagasaki - which is where they lived. The book has so many little twists - "what ifs" and "different paths" taken - it is very thought provoking.

This book opened my eyes to so many things about Japan. There are some gruesome parts - facts about what happened after the bomb goes off and about what happened to prisoners of war. You could easily skim read these if you find them too upsetting. But it is so beautifully written with the story weaving back and forth across time. It did for me sometimes get a little confusing, as the time jumps were not always sequential. 

The main hook for me was whether Hideo is in fact Amaterasu's grandson? This was a little cliffhanger throughout the book and I really enjoyed that aspect. There is also at the beginning of each chapter a Japanese word or phrase explained - which is where the dictionary part comes into play.

I'm giving this book 5 out of 5 stars and is easily a book I could read again. I look forward to reading more by this author.

My thanks to Netgalley and Windmill Books for a copy to review.

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