January: “A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding” by Jackie Copleton

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding
by Jackie Copleton

Our January 2016 Book of the Month

When asked the meaning of her title, A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding, Jackie Copleton responded, “I wanted the title to encapsulate the drive for understanding explored in the book between cultures, people, and enemies, both at an individual and state level.”

In her debut novel – selected as our January Book of the Month – understanding and compassion are the gifts she gives to her readers. In the tradition of Gail Tsukiyama’s The Street of a Thousand Blossoms and the bestseller Memoirs of a Geisha, Copleton brings us into the culture of Japan by creating unforgettable characters and showing the universal humanity in our perceived enemy. As Americans, our knowledge of the dropping of an atomic bomb on Nagasaki is limited to photographs and news stories distant from our own experiences. For many the bomb was seen as a necessary evil that brought an end to a devastating war. A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding shows us the long-lasting impact of one day and one bomb on individuals and families. While considered historical fiction, I found this book to be a powerful and timely story of the legacy of loss and the long road to peace.


When a badly scarred man knocks on the door of Amaterasu Takahashi’s home near Philadelphia and says that he is her grandson, she doesn’t believe him. She knows her grandson and daughter died 38 years earlier, on the day the Americans dropped the bomb. But the stranger carries with him 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 farther back, to the long sake-pouring nights at a hostess bar where Ama learned that a soft heart was a dangerous thing. Will Ama allow herself to believe in a miracle?


Jackie Copleton spent three years teaching English in Nagasaki and Sapporo. A journalist, she now lives with her husband in Glasglow, Scotland.

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