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Dictionary of mutual understanding : a novel
2015
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  Library Journal Review

Four decades have passed since Amaterasu Takahashi lost her daughter and grandson in Nagasaki's atomic destruction. Now an octogenarian widow living in Philadelphia, she's shocked by the arrival of a disfigured stranger claiming to be that grandson. He brings letters from the past, as well as truths Ama kept buried most of her life. Reliving difficult memories-youthful indiscretions, desperate love affairs, estrangement from her now dead daughter-Ama resists seeing what is right before her eyes. Copleton draws on her three-year experience living in Japan to infuse her debut novel with cultural sensitivity; that said, she's not above commodifying geisha exotica à la Arthur Golden, which mars the narrative with avoidable predictability. Narrator Nancy Wu is one of the slightly less ubiquitous readers trotted out for Asian-themed titles regardless of actual ethnic heritage. She has voiced sagas from Amy Tan, Jeannie Lin, Cecily Wong, and more and here gives an effective-enough read, albeit with the occasional stumble in Japanese. VERDICT Published in 2015 to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Japan, Dictionary has enough gravitas to complement most historical fiction collections. ["A well-crafted and lightly suspenseful tale of true and forbidden love and a wealth of secret revelations": LJ 12/15 review of the Penguin hc.]-Terry Hong, -Smithsonian -BookDragon, Washington, DC © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Publishers Weekly Review

In Copleton's uneven debut, Takahashi is visited in her old age by a man who claims to be Hideo, the grandson she believes had died during the WWII bombing of Nagasaki, which triggers memories. Amaterasu learns that Hideo was found in an orphanage and raised by Jomei Sato, an old friend of Amaterasu's husband, Kenzo. Amaterasu remembers how she and Kenzo attempted to keep the married and much older Jomei from their 16-year-old daughter, Yuko. Amaterasu gets a better sense of the past after going through her daughter's journals and reading letters Jomei had written to Yuko after her death, though she remains wary of Hideo and bitter about Jomei's actions. Copleton breathes life into the first two-thirds of the book, an often-poignant narrative of the many forms of love and loss, though it's somewhat hindered by the diary and letter-writing formats. Unfortunately, a dark secret that's hinted at and revealed in the final act of the novel is quite outlandish, and it derails the work of the previous chapters. Though the story has many moving passages and an initially intriguing plot, the denouement strains credibility. (Dec.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Summary
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 <br> <br> 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 bombing of Nagasaki. But the man carries with him a collection of sealed private letters that open a Pandora's Box of family secrets Ama had sworn to leave behind when she fled Japan. She is forced to confront her memories of the years before the war: of the daughter she tried too hard to protect and the love affair that would drive them apart, and even further back, to the long, sake-pouring nights at a hostess bar where Ama first learned that a soft heart was a dangerous thing. Will Ama allow herself to believe in a miracle?
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