Plot: Amaterasu has spent years trying to forget. Forget her life in Japan before the war. Forget that she never made peace with her daughter before her death. Forget she had so much to live for and lost it all.
When a young man turns up, claiming to be her grandson, Amaterasu must revisit those lost years. Only the past gives her any chance of accepting the truth. But it’s not easy, not when she must face up to her own youth and her failings as a mother. Can Amaterasu come to terms with a past she has hidden from?
Quote: `You are admired, yes, but will you recognise love when it arrives? Will you allow it into your life?`
Opinion: I received A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding from Netgalley, then saw it in WHSmith and knew it was time to start reading. The synopsis intrigued me and although I had never come across Jackie Copleton before, I was interested to see her take on an era that contained only pain. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and understood why it has been long-listed for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize.
The plot was haunting. A woman who lost everything in the atomic bomb must come to terms with her memories, accepting that her past was not as rose-tinted as she had been fooling herself into believing. The story was told from Amaterasu’s point of view, so the truth was revealed slowly in bursts of enlightenment. Her character developed and more empathy was created each time she revealed something that had happened to her.
The characterisations were strong. Amaterasu had her issues and was shaped by a past she had kept secret. In any other situation, she wouldn’t have been a likeable character. But in this book, both her past and present selves are relatable and help stir empathy. Hideo was so likeable that you wanted her to accept him just to stop him from being hurt.
The characters of the past were shadier, but that added even more depth to the book. From working girls to medical torturers, this book had it all! Each different personality shaped Amaterasu and made her the person she was by the end – and as each person is revealed, her bitterness towards the world is more understandable.
A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding impressed me the most because of the understanding of the Japanese language. Each chapter starts with a Japanese word, it’s meaning and how it is applied in society. I put my hands up and admit I know nothing about Japanese culture, but I feel I have learnt something while reading this book. It has been a long time since a book has made me feel that, so I salute Copleton and say thank you.
If you are after a book full of depth and hidden emotions, of grief, joy and the feeling of being alive despite all the odds, then I fully recommend A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding. You will learn something from this book!