A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton [in Library Journal]
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.
Jackie 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.