Dec 1, 2015

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding, by Jackie Copleton

It's hard to write a lovely book about nuclear warfare, but newcomer Jackie Copleton has managed to do just that. Ameratsu, when we first meet her, is an elderly widower living in Pennsylvania, lonely and veering into alcoholism. A knock on her door reveals a middle aged Japanese man, clearly marked by the scars of the atom bomb, who claims to be her dead grandson. The story proceeds back and forth through time - the moment the bomb is dropped on Nagasaki, the years and months just before the bomb, the weeks after, and Ameratsu's own youth. Her daughter, Yuko, was instantly killed as she waited for her mother in Nagasaki's cathedral, right in the middle of the bomb zone, and Ameratsu has always blamed herself for her daughter's presence in the city that killed her. Could Hideo, this man on her doorstop, possibly be that daughter's son?

Each chapter is preceded by a Japanese word and its meaning, usually colloquial or traditional. Though I generally dislike chapter epigraphs because I always forget them anyways and thus lose their significance, these are relevant to understanding the nuances of Japanese culture each chapter circles around. It's a beautifully written and very touching novel.

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