BookPage Fiction Top Pick, December 2015
Decades after fleeing Japan and building a new life in America, Amaterasu Takahashi is confronted by a man claiming to be a missing piece of her past. Badly scarred and bearing a trove of family secrets, he stands on her doorstep claiming to be her grandson, Hideo, who died in the bombing at Nagasaki along with Ama’s daughter, Yuko. Ama knows her family is dead; she had spent countless hours searching the rubble and hospitals with her husband, Kenzo. She doesn’t believe the man at the door.
His proof of identity is a collection of sealed letters that carry not only the story of Hideo’s survival and how he came to find her in the States, but also the secrets of a seemingly ordinary family, opening up wounds Ama had long tried to pretend were healed. As chapters alternate between the past and the present, Ama confronts feelings of guilt and grief over her losses as well as hope that the future might hold more than loneliness.
In her debut novel, journalist Jackie Copleton—who lived in Nagasaki for two years—manages to sensitively portray Japanese culture as well as the utter horror and devastation of August 9, 1945, an angle often unexplored in Western writing. Characterized by heartache, memories and promise, A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding is a gripping narrative about family and loss that will appeal to readers of historical and literary fiction.