Review: ‘A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding’ by Jackie Copleton

Another Saturday, another uni review!

This novel follows Amaterasu Takahashi, a woman who moved with her husband to America after their daughter Yuko and grandson Hideo were killed by the bomb on Nagasaki. The story opens for us when a man claiming to be Hideo arrives on her doorstep. As she struggles to believe him, we are taken back in time to try and understand her relationship with her daughter, and the guilt she feels for her daughter’s death.


The story moves back in time to understand the daughter’s story and then back further to Amaterasu’s own girlhood. I felt that Copleton did an excellent job of creating many characters whom I sympathised with, even when I didn’t agree with their actions. I also felt that while the bomb dropped on Nagasaki forms an obviously key part of the story, being the way that Amaterasu loses her daughter, the details of it are covered very quickly and the story moves on to centre other moments, which are more personal to the character.

This is one of those books which doesn’t take a strictly linear approach to narrative but rather presents a scenario – and ending point – and then builds up around it the circumstances that led to it being so. While it wasn’t a long read I felt there was a lot to take in.

I wasn’t fond of the cover before I read the book, but having finished it I really don’t think it reflects the content of the story. There’s something about the colour palette chosen that implies a sentimentality which for me was not at all present – while plenty of the events of the story are harrowing, they are not presented in a sentimental way.

I really enjoyed this story and would absolutely recommend it for readers who enjoy family drama and stories based around an historical event.


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