Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding” as Want to Read:
A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding

by
4.01  ·  Rating details ·  3,872 ratings  ·  584 reviews
In the tradition of Memoirs of a Geisha and The Piano Teacher, a heart-wrenching debut novel of family, forgiveness, and the exquisite pain of love
 
When Amaterasu Takahashi opens the door of her Philadelphia home to a badly scarred man claiming to be her grandson, she doesn’t believe him. Her grandson and her daughter, Yuko, perished nearly forty years ago during the bomb
...more
Paperback, 292 pages
Published December 1st 2015 by Penguin Books (first published July 16th 2015)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Lovemystarbucks No—you have to realize that the Japanese almost immediately went from enemy to ally. The U.S. was occupying their country and guiding their formation…moreNo—you have to realize that the Japanese almost immediately went from enemy to ally. The U.S. was occupying their country and guiding their formation into a democracy (a lot of worry at this time with the Soviets and Communist China and trouble brewing in Korea)...

Also—why would Americans shun the Japanese over the Atomic Bomb? If anything, the Americans should be ashamed of what had happened—though I was not alive then and don’t know what the news coverage was like, so I don’t know if the public realized the true devastation at the time. I know the motto now is “ never again” and every Japanese that I have met is very peace oriented. (I lived in Japan for 4 years and continue to be very involved with the Japanese community).(less)
Kimberly She wanted to know what he asked her to keep on their way out of the garden on the way to school. At the beginning of the book it is mentioned to be a…moreShe wanted to know what he asked her to keep on their way out of the garden on the way to school. At the beginning of the book it is mentioned to be a praying mantis. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
4.01  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,872 ratings  ·  584 reviews


More filters
 | 
Sort order
Diane S ☔
Sep 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
3.5 Pikadon, pika meaning bright light and don, meaning boom. The word the Japanese use when referring to the bombing by the Americans of Nagasaki. This is where this story starts, the bombing which will cost Amaterasu her daughter and young grandson. She and her husband will move to America, no longer to bear the memories in their own country. Where forty years later a badly scarred man will arrive at her door claiming to be her grandson.

The effects of the bombing surrounds this story that goes
...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
An elderly woman has a visitor claiming to be her grandson from Nagasaki, who she believes to be dead. The story unwinds through letters, diaries, memories, and several generations. I really enjoyed the structure of the novel, the way it started with a word from a dictionary and gave a definition and cultural context. I also think we talk far more about Hiroshima and very little about Nagasaki; I felt like I had learned a lot about the place and the people by the time the novel was through.

I'm
...more
Barbara
Sep 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
“A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding” is a breathtaking work of literary historical fiction. It’s a story detailing the life of Amaterasu Takahashi, born in the early 1910’s in Nagasaki to a poor couple. Amaterasu, aka Ama, lived through two world wars and knew the pain and heartache that war leaves it’s citizens, and how to be a survivor. Beyond historical fiction, it’s a literary domestic fiction work of forgiveness.

The story begins in modern day Pennsylvania, when Ama receives a male, badly
...more
Jules
A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding is about the devastation of war and the impact it had on one particular family, after an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

I loved the style this book was written in and the way the story gradually came together. In places this was rather an emotional read, but overall a compelling story that felt very real.

The definitions at the beginning of each chapter were fascinating and gave me an insight in to Japanese culture, and how it differs so much from that of
...more
Erin
Jul 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Find this and other reviews at: http://flashlightcommentary.blogspot....

My decision to request a review copy of Jackie Copleton's A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding was made blindly. I knew nothing about the author, I hadn't read a single review of the title and I'd no idea it was a debut piece. It wouldn't have mattered, I was sold on the subject matter, but I knew very little going into this book and was pleasantly surprised at what I discovered between its pages.

Amaterasu is an atypical pr
...more
Imi
It took me over half the book to work out why this wasn't quite working for me. This is exactly the kind of genre I love: a historical family drama spanning the years and exploring the various difficulties and secrets between relations. My biggest complaint was the author's decision to make our narrator, Amaterasu, omniscient, all-knowing and able to describe exactly how other people felt, exactly what they saw and what they were thinking, simply through reading a few letters and diary entries. ...more
Connie G
Sep 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Widowed Amaterasu Takahashi is living in Pennsylvania with nothing but alcohol to keep her company. She is surprised when a scarred man comes to her door claiming to be her grandson, Hideo. Ama believed her daughter and grandson had been killed when the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945, although their bodies had never been found.

Ana has been living with guilt for her actions prior to the dropping of the bomb. The Takanashis had moved away from Nagasaki because the memories of their belove
...more
Natasa
A great novel which provides insight into Japanese culture & the bombing of Nagasaki and telling a heart-wrenching story about a mother coming to terms with her relationship with and subsequent loss of her daughter and grandson.
Noeleen
Mar 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My thanks to Random House UK, Cornerstone and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

This story is set before, during and after the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki during World War II and alternates to the present day. Amaterasu Takahashi, a Japanese national is living in America when a man who claims to be her grandson arrives at her door one day. Amaterasu had believed that both her daughter Yuko and grandson Hideo, died on t
...more
Monica **can't read fast enough**
A heartbreaking story, but I enjoyed it. Review to come.
Meg - A Bookish Affair
Nov 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
"The Dictionary of Mutual Understanding" is a historical fiction book that has parts set both during the bombing of Nagasaki during World War II and about 40 years later. It's a debut novel that really packs a punch! The author takes on one of the most horrifying events in human history, the bombing of Nagasaki and turns it into a story of family and family secrets while still retaining the shock and outrage of the original event.

Because of the subject matter, the story is often difficult to rea
...more
Louise Wilson
Apr 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
This story is all about the atomic bombing of Nagasaki by America. It tells of the devastation war brings to families.

Set between World War Two and forty years after, tells how Amaterasu Takahashi and her husband leave Japan to live in America as the memories of war are too hard to bare.

Forty years later a man knocks on Amaterasu's door claiming to be her grandson. He has letters revealing more about forbidden love between Yuko and Sato.

This novel brought me to tears and I found it quite chillin
...more
Katherine
Dec 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Jackie Copleton’s debut novel, inspired by her time living in Nagasaki, shines with a soft, poetic and sensitive light. Focusing on the long-lasting physical and emotional trauma of August 9th, 1945, it is also a heartbreaking story of love, and the relationship between a mother and a daughter.

Even the kindness of the half-light could not hide his disfigurement. The man stood on my doorstep hunched against the chill of a winter morning. Despite the scarring, I could tell he was Japanese, in his
...more
Danika
Jan 05, 2016 rated it liked it
I received The Dictionary of Mutual Understanding for free through Goodreads Giveaways. For more reviews, follow the link below to my blog, Pages & Pepper.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I really wanted to love it, but the book fell a bit short. I would have given it 3.5 stars.

My favourite thing about this book was how Copleton began each chapter with a relevant Japanese-to-English translation of a uniquely Japanese word (i.e. an equivalent word does not exist – at least not in any of
...more
Janine
Jan 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club, historical, war
I have some.....thoughts about this book, but I don't know how great they are? Or how well-received they'll be.

To start things off on a positive note, I felt like this book offered a unique perspective of the atomic bombing of Japan, at least for me. The Japanese perspective of WWII is not one I have really experienced in literature, despite the proliferation of fiction that centers around this time period. I appreciated it for that, because "pikadon" and its effects were horrendous, and I thin
...more
Tripfiction
Jun 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing

This is a novel that ticks so many boxes. It is well written, thoughtful, insightful and is set against the backdrop of the atomic bombing of the city of Nagasaki on 9th August 1945, shortly after 11 am. In Japanese the word Pikadon – the term for the explosion – is now well integrated into Japanese vocabulary, PIKA meaning brilliant light and DON expressing the sound of boom.

Strikingly, the author has created a feel in her writing that is singularly Japanese to the Western eye, which in itself
...more
Cian O hAnnrachainn
The premise has been used before, with a person thought killed in a war turning up on a relative's doorstep. In A DICTIONARY OF MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING, the arrival of a disfigured man claiming to be Amaterasu Takahashi's grandson opens the novel, but you just have to know if he is or isn't who he claims to be.

The potential grandson brings letters from a man whose significance in Mrs. Takahashi's life is slowly revealed, chapter by chapter. Coupled with snippets from a daughter's diary, the story b
...more
Vanessa Wild
Apr 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
An absorbing, compelling and poignant story about family, love, guilt and forgiveness set before, during and after the horrific bombing of Nagasaki in WWII.

This is a well written and beautifully told tale. Although it is moderately slow paced at first, building up gradually, it kept my attention. It gave a great insight into a culture I know little about. I particularly liked the Japanese words or phrases and their English definitions at the beginning of each chapter, which in some way pertained
...more
Petra
Nov 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: giveaway-wins
I won this in a GR Giveaway in return for an honest review.

This is a lovely story. The story slowly unfolds through the memories of 80-year old Amaterasu Takahashi, her daughter's journals and letters. It's wonderfully interwoven. Each chapter starts with a Japanese word and explains its cultural meaning, which adds to this poignant look back at Amaterasu's history.
I really liked the unfolding, the slow reveals and the aftermath of the atomic bomb being dropped on an unsuspecting city. Told wit
...more
Stephen
Aug 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Enjoyed this book based around the dropping of fat man atomic bomb on Japan in August 1945 and the new relationship between grandmother and grandson in the 1980's and the family past prior to the bomb.
Barb
Jackie Copleton realistically brought to life the characters she created in 'A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding'. The protagonist, Amaterasu Takahashi, a widow living alone in American is also a survivor of the bombing of Nagasaki. She believes her daughter, Yuko, and grandson, Hideo, both died in the bombing. But now, all these years later, a young man, the same age as her grandson, shows up on her doorstep claiming to be Hideo.

Amaterasue doesn't know what to believe, she doesn't know what to
...more
Renita D'Silva
Jun 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this beautiful, poignant, devastating book about love, loss, betrayal and survival. Beautiful, evocative, stunning. Loved it.
Ellen
August 9, 1945 in Nagasaki, Japan, Amaterasu Takahashi had just dropped her grandson Hideo at his elementary school and was on her way to meet her daughter Yuko, Hideo's mother, at a cathedral in the city. When the bomb dropped Amaterasu was running late for her appointment but she watched as the mushroom cloud enveloped much of Nagasaki's inner city. Immediately she ran for the school seeing horror upon horror visited on the people she passed by. There was no sign of Hideo and after visiting th ...more
Annie
Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Amaterasu Takahashi thinks she is the last member of her family. Her husband has died. Her son-in-law was killed on New Guinea. Her daughter and grandson were killed when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. But when a man shows up on her doorstep claiming to be her grandson at the beginning of Jackie Copleton’s novel, A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding, it is as though she’s been shot through the heart. Everything she believes about her family’s life and her own life is sudde ...more
Melissa
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
I had been interested in reading this for quite some time, as I had heard good things about it, including a comparison to Memoirs of a Geisha.

This novel is not for the faint of heart. There are scenes depicting the graphic aftermath of a nuclear explosion. There are also some other descriptions of wartime activities that are disturbing and unsettling.

Having said that, it is still a very interesting story. It is told in four parts: Of Amaterasu as an octogenarian, of her daughter Yuko in her teen
...more
Kimberly
Jun 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
One of the times I wish for half stars, I find this to be a solid 4.5. This is a sweet and melancholy tale with compelling, imperfect characters. I have deep empathy for each character - I was moved by their individual heartbreaks, sacrifice, regret and redemption. A lovely story with the added charm of the cultural definitions at the beginning of each chapter.
Steve Shilstone
Oct 17, 2017 rated it liked it
For history and culture, an informative read. For me, the prose failed to ignite.
Kathryn
An unexpected visitor to her American apartment forces Amaterasu Takahashi, a survivor of the atomic bomb strike on Nagasaki to look back on her past and the time leading up to and immediately after the atomic bombing of the city in which she lost her only daughter and grandson.

This is a haunting novel packed with historical information about the Japanese city of Nagasaki, its culture and customs, geography and topography and details of the atom bomb and its fallout. All of which could be overwh
...more
Erika
Nov 28, 2015 rated it liked it
3.5 stars.

After seeing so much historical fiction set in and around Europe during WWII, I found it refreshing to read a novel dealing with a pivotal-yet-under-represented WWII event that occurred on the other side of the world: the bombing of Nagasaki. Copleton's story begins with Amaterasu, an 80-something Japanese woman who, nearly 40 years after the bombing, is visited by a badly-scarred man claiming to be her grandson, whom she believes to have died that day. He has with him a Pandora's box
...more
Lynn
Jul 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a beautifully written story of a family in pre- and post war Nagasaki, Japan. 40 years after the war, a badly scarred man arrives on Amaterasu Takahashi's door step, claiming to be the grandson she lost in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. From there the book goes back in time, exploring Amaterasu's past, her family's past and the horror of the bomb. The question remains to the very end: is this man her long lost grandson, and does it really matter?

Each chapter starts with a definition of
...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Translation of Love
  • Found
  • The Storyteller and his Three Daughters
  • After Darkness
  • The Egyptian Years
  • Freedom Ride
  • Saree
  • Dear Vincent
  • Alpha. Abidjan-Gare du Nord: Abidjan-Gare du Nord (Hors collection)
  • Noonday (Life Class, #3)
  • Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate
  • Crossing to Paradise
  • Is This My Beautiful Life?
  • One Night, Markovitch
  • Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies (Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies, #1)
  • Yoro
  • The Story of Tom Brennan
  • The Minnow
See similar books…
65 followers
A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding is journalist Jackie Copleton's debut novel and is inspired by her time living in Nagasaki in the 1990s after completing a degree in English at Cambridge University. It is a Richard and Judy summer book club pick, was long-listed for the Women's Prize for Fiction and was a Radio 2 Book Club pick