A DICTIONARY OF MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING by Jackie Copleton

A DICTIONARY OF MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING

Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

In British novelist Copleton's debut, family secrets and betrayals demand to be reckoned with, even after a world-shattering tragedy changes everything.

Grief-stricken, Amaterasu Takahashi and her husband, Kenzo, fled their hometown of Nagasaki, Japan, after losing their daughter and grandson to the atomic bomb. Almost 40 years later, widowed and friendless in Pennsylvania, Amaterasu's main companion is alcohol—until a disfigured man appears on her doorstep and claims to be her lost grandson, Hideo. His appearance sets off a firestorm of memories as Amaterasu reads a bundle of letters meant to prove their relation. Twenty-first–century readers will wonder why Amaterasu doesn't usher Hideo to the nearest doctor's office for a DNA test. Somewhat conveniently, the novel takes place in the 1980s, before such technology existed. As it is, Amaterasu's dilemma raises questions—what does it mean to accept a long-lost relative? Why and how is it worth it, when you can't know for sure? Amaterasu is hard but not bitter as she recounts her history, using calm and deliberate storytelling to draw full pictures of life before, during, and after the war. Copleton's perfectly paced hints and reveals of the Takahashi family secrets heighten the drama without causing the reader to feel manipulated. Each chapter begins by defining a thematically relevant Japanese word or concept, which adds cultural context to the novel without slowing the pace of the story or becoming overly didactic. Though Amaterasu's current life is defined by the bombing of Nagasaki, the novel is more than just a war story, taking readers back to her teen years and her life as a mother, when forbidden romances set the course for the future.

A fully drawn portrait of a city and a life, this novel will hold appeal for history buffs, lovers of literary fiction, and readers of high-drama romance.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-14-312825-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Penguin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2015




SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

FictionBURNT SHADOWS by Kamila Shamsie
by Kamila Shamsie
NonfictionNAGASAKI by Susan Southard
by Susan Southard
FictionMEMOIRS OF A GEISHA by Arthur Golden
by Arthur Golden