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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 40 years ago during the bombing of Nagasaki. But the man carries with him a collection of sealed private letters that open a 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?
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By Bonny on 01-28-16
Interesting and original, but I wished for more
A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding is an interesting and original story about Amaterasu Takahashi, a Japanese woman who has lost her daughter and grandson in the bombing of Nagasaki. The novel moves back and forth between 1945, Amaterasu's life 40 years later, and her life in years prior to 1945. This novel is primarily about Amaterasu's life and how she set some events into motion long before the terrible events of August 9, 1945, and how the bombing in Nagasaki plays a life-defining part in her story. Some of the bomb blast descriptions are difficult to read, but that is certainly as it should be.
I personally would have enjoyed the story much more if there had been multiple protagonists so I could better understand the bombing and its horrendous effects from more than just Amaterasu's viewpoint. I wondered why Hiroshima wasn't mentioned at all, but this book did lead me to read more about Nagasaki and the cruel quirks of fate that led to the bombing. Quirks of fate, along with secrets and lies, figure largely in Ama's retelling. The secrets and lies that comprise much of the plot bordered on being unbelievable and contrived and were my least favorite parts. My favorite part was the way in which Copleton began each chapter with a Japanese-to-English translation of a unique Japanese word, one for which no English equivalent exists, but then gave a through explanation of what the word means in Japanese culture. The words and meanings were fascinating and added to a better understanding of Japan and its culture, a real dictionary of mutual understanding.
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