Dictionary of Mutual Understanding

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding
Jackie Copleton

Penguin Books

Amaterasu Takahashi and her husband left Japan for America after World War II, seeking a form of self-imposed exile from their native Nagasaki.

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“. . . succeeds in bridging two cultures that have often seemed impenetrable to each other.”

The atomic bomb that devastated their city claimed the lives of their daughter Yuko Watanabe and young grandson Hideo. Scandal had touched Yuko in a way Amaterasu felt brought dishonor to their family. The bomb event, known as pikadon, prevented her from resolving the scandal at the cost of lasting grief. 

Life and work in the strangeness of America kept the two exiles busy, and Amaterasu buried her memories deep. Her husband’s death leaves her a lonely and bitter recluse, relying on alcohol to dull her pain – until one winter’s day a disfigured stranger comes calling. 

Claiming to be Hideo Watanabe he bears a collection of private letters written by his adopted father, the man whose love for Yuko brought scandal to Amaterasu’s life. Disbelief wars with curiosity in Amaterasu’s mind. She is sure Hideo died in the pikadon, but as she reads the letters and Yuko’s diaries a different picture emerges. The certainties Amaterasu once held about her daughter and the man who almost ruined both their lives begin to shift. Is it possible for Amaterasu to reclaim her spirit and be at peace with the memories of those who died?

In A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding, Jackie Copleton succeeds in bridging two cultures that have often seemed impenetrable to each other. Her deft and sensitive writing brings to life the struggle for love, understanding and redemption, particularly as it affected the survivors of the horrific event of August 9, 1945.


Reviewer: Cindy A. Matthews