Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published December 1, 2015. Penguin Books.
Amaterasu Takahashi has had a tough life, and has spent 40 years in the United States trying to forget about the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki that killed everyone she held dear, including her daughter and grandson. With her husband now dead, and everyone she loved gone, Amaterasu drinks herself into oblivion hoping to forget the pain of her memories. Her life is turned upside down when a very burned, heavily scarred man knocks on her door, insisting he’s her long-lost grandson Hideo, forcing her to relive the memories she’s been trying desperately to forget.
Amaterasu’s story is told through flashbacks, as multiple voices painstakingly remove layers to reveal the truth about herself she’s buried for 40 years. Each chapter begins with a definition of a Japanese word, followed by either a present day interaction between Amaterasu and Hideo or a flashback. These flashbacks from different characters sometimes got me confused but I learned much about August 9, 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped, as well as a little of Japan’s history and traditions.
Though a bit confusing due to the constant back-and-forth narratives, “A dictionary of mutual understanding” is a good cross-cultural, historical look at Japan and the people of Nagasaki. Amaterasu’s character is very believable, and the reasons she had to act the way she did will generate much empathy from readers.
Recommended for Adults.