Jul 27, 2015

Japan Weekend Book Review: A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

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Review by Suze

Amaterasu has lost both her daughter Yuko and grandson Hideo. They died when the Americans attacked Nagasaki with an atom bomb. Amaterasu feels guilty because she sent Yuko to the place where she died. Yuko had already arrived while Amaterasu was late. Hideo was at school when it happened and most of the pupils passed away. Because they lost so much Amaterasu and her husband Kenzo moved to America straight after the war. 

Amaterasu is living in a retirement home and she's truly alone. Kenzo is no longer alive and there's nobody else who's close to her. When one day someone who's badly burned shows up on her doorstep and tells her he's Hideo she doesn't believe him. The past is complicated and Amaterasu doesn't want to be reminded of it. Before Yuko got married to Hideo's father she was together with an older man, someone who played a role in Amaterasu's past as well. Someone she wanted to protect her daughter from. Was she doing the right thing? And is the stranger really Hideo, how can she know? 

Each chapter of A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding begins with a Japanese word and an explanation. I loved reading these pieces of information. Amaterasu hasn't had an easy life and she's been consumed by guilt for so many years. If she'd have acted differently Yuko might still have been alive. It isn't her fault the Americans attacked, but she feels like it is her fault because she sent Yuko to that place. Jackie Copleton has told her story so well that I could feel her pain. Even though she isn't guilty and isn't to blame, I understood why she felt like that. She reads Yuko's diaries even though they are private and they're bringing her pain. These brief insights in Yuko's life gave the story so much extra depth. The relationship between mother and daughter is both moving and complicated, especially since Amaterasu goes really far trying protect Yuko, I had tears in my eyes because of her motherly love sometimes. 

Amaterasu has such a difficult past and she has known very little happiness in her life. Fortunately she ended up with a man like Kenzo, a good man who always tried to be her rock. They have a complicated history which remains secret until the end of the story. It was quite intriguing and I kept wanting to know more. Jackie Copleton was making me feel curious. She tells the story with such a great sensitivity which makes it beautiful. She's considerate, but honest and I liked that a lot. The Second World War was a difficult time to be young. A lot of men were sent abroad to fight, also if they didn't want to, and many of them didn't survive. I had tears in my eyes when I read about the things that were happening. War makes so many victims and each of them has a story. That's what I kept thinking about when I read this book. Amaterasu's world has crumbled because of it. I think A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding is an amazing story about a fascinating woman with an interesting, but heartbreaking past.

2 comments:

  1. I really need to read this book, your review makes me want to know more

    ReplyDelete

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