A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding
Jackie Copleton (Adult Historical Fiction)
On August 9, 1945 a new word entered the Japanese vernacular: pikadon. PIKA meaning brilliant light and DON meaning boom. It aptly described what Amaterasu Takahashi and thousands of others saw and heard in Nagasaki at 11:02 am. A brilliant light and then a boom. Ama lost her daughter and grandson on that fateful morning. They were everything to her. Pushing past the dead or dying and sifting through the ashes, she knew she would never see Yuko or little Hideo again. But nearly forty years later, a man—badly scarred and disfigured—knocked on her door bringing good news. “Please don’t be alarmed,” the stranger said. “My name is Hideo Wantanabe. It is good to see you Grandmother.” He left her a letter to read to get their journey started. A journey that would take Ama back to a tragic past and a man who would be the common thread to everyone she has ever loved and lost.
A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding is Jackie Copleton’s first novel and it truly is a hauntingly beautiful story. Using Ama as our narrator, we experience the horror when the second of two atomic bombs hit the city of Nagasaki on August 9th (the first hit Hiroshima three days prior on August 6th). Through Ama’s eyes, we witness the carnage, fear, destruction, chaos, and terror as survivors desperately searched for loved ones while the injured begged for water or aid. As our story progresses, we begin to learn more about Ama, her husband, Kenzo, and her daughter. Through Ama’s memories, as well as a series of entries in Yuko’s diary, we begin to understand the reasons behind Ama’s feelings of guilt and bitterness. She is a woman living a life of “What ifs” and “If onlys” and is constantly questioning her own maternal motives. Any parent will be able to relate to Ama and her need to shield her child from harm and heartache, but as the saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” and Ama quickly realizes that protection often comes with a price.
Copleton gives readers a multi-layered story that is brimming with pain, loss, regret, and love. But the singular theme that runs throughout the story is hope. Whether you are extended it, enticed by it, or desperately hold onto it, hope has many faces: a grandmother looking for comfort, a scarred man searching for healing, a young wife waiting for her husband’s return from war, a lover wanting a second chance, or a city emerging from the rubble. Copleton gives us a poignant and touching story of hope and reminds us that it is when things are at their darkest that hope often comes knocking on our door.
*Book cover image attributed to www.penguinrandomhouse.com
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