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Cover for A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding

A Novel

Jackie Copleton


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Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (11/30/2015)

December '15 Indie Next List

“An intimate look at the devastating effect of the bombing of Nagasaki on one family, this is a story of love -- parental and sexual, selfless and selfish, and, in the end, healing. Amaterasu Takahashi opens the door of her home in the U.S. to a badly scarred man claiming to be her grandson, who supposedly perished along with her daughter during the bombing nearly 40 years earlier. The man carries a cache of letters that forces Ama to confront her past and the love affair that tore her apart from her daughter.”
— Sandi Torkildson, A Room of One's Own Feminist Bookstore, Madison, WI
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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 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?

Praise For A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding: A Novel

“This impressively layered first novel never strains credulity as it explores grief and guilt amid revelations of long-buried familial secrets, destructive love affairs and more.” – The New York Times

Memoirs of a Geisha
meets The Piano Teacher, in the best way.” --, A December Book Club Pick

“A treasure. . . . Japanese culture, family life and love are all a part of the theme Copleton explores.”— A San Diego Union-Tribune “Best Book of 2015”

“Copleton's deeply moving novel offers both mesmerizing storytelling and a thoughtful probe of difficult questions about love, trust and forgiveness. Gripping, convincing and heartbreaking, though ultimately hopeful, this is an accomplished debut.” – Cleveland Plain Dealer

“A fully drawn portrait of a city and a life, this novel will hold appeal for history buffs, lovers of literary fiction, and readers of high-drama romance.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Journalist Jackie Copleton manages to sensitively portray Japanese culture, as well as the utter horror and devastation of August 9, 1945, from an angle often unexplored in Western writing. Characterized by heartache, memories and promise, A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding is a gripping narrative about family and loss.” BookPage, Fiction Top Pick 

“I loved this book. I don't often say that much anymore, but this one had me rapt. I read it on an airplane, and when I looked up weeping from the last several pages, my husband, alarmed, said, "What's the matter?" And I said, "This book is so beautiful."  And it is. This is a mesmerizing, heart-wrenching story of love and regret, but ultimately, and most assuredly, the healing generosity of hope; I couldn't put it down. Lovely . . . an exceptional tale of a family in crisis whose lives are shattered by the bombing of Nagasaki. At once intimate and sweeping, profoundly subtle and yet remarkably affecting, the story reminds the reader that public catastrophe interrupts myriad smaller, but no less devastating, private troubles, magnifying their consequences and obstructing their resolution.” —Robin Oliveira, New York Times bestselling author of My Name Is Mary Sutter 

“Extraordinary…Like Snow Falling on Cedars and The Reader, here is one of those rare life opportunities to look again at ourselves, and forgive our shameful past, achieved with striking style, an unflinching eye and through a clever narrative. Brava Jackie Copleton. I cannot wait to read your next novel.”—Mary-Rose MacColl, author of In Falling Snow

“Iojima, Nagasaki—names of places known from war. Jackie Copleton’s debut novel delivers an impassioned story of family, loyalty and love that allows us, as she writes, 'to appreciate the human foundations' of these historic locations. It is through such intimate stories of people who have lived through war do we begin to understand the vulnerability of survival and the real meaning of peace. Following the surprising turns revealed in one woman’s remembrances—a memory made selective by loss and frailty—this story took me on an unexpected journey through Japan in a rarely examined era, and I closed its cover satisfied to learn it had led me to an elevated mutual understanding of our difficult global history.”—Eugenia Kim, author of The Calligrapher’s Daughter

“Copleton aptly portrays the multiple faces of pre-war Nagasaki. . . . This is a beautiful, heart-wrenching story full of love and history.” – Historical Novels Review

"An absolute must. Gripping from the first page, you'll not want to put it down . . . this is a superb literary launch." Marie Claire (UK) "Books To Look Forward To In 2015"

“Copleton . . . draws upon memoirs of survivors and oral histories for this lyrical and moving first novel.” --
“A well-crafted and lightly suspenseful tale of true and forbidden love and a wealth of secret revelations. [Copleton’s] strong characterizations recall those of writers such as Margaret Dalloway and Gail Tsukiyama . . . as well as Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha and Katherine Govier’s The Printmaker’s Daughter.” – Library Journal
“Set against the backdrop of the bombing of Nagasaki . . . Amaterasu Takahashi, now living in Philadelphia, [is] forced to face her past in Japan.” – Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“Astonishingly accomplished. . . .A gripping love story and family dynamic is woven seamlessly with graphic descriptions of the aftermath of the bomb and the historical and cultural changes sweeping Japan. . . . While this is an often heart-breaking portrait of a mother’s love told through diaries, letters, and flashbacks, it is also a meticulously researched history of Japan. The graceful style and clarity of [Copleton’s] writing makes this an addictive read. With the 70th anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki approaching, this novel is a must.”Scottish Daily Mail (UK)

“Full of delicate imagery drawing on Japanese nature and culture, this is a rich, romantic story, brimming with restrained emotion—with a twist that will take your breath away. Superb.”Daily Mirror (UK)

Penguin Books, 9780143128250, 304pp.

Publication Date: December 1, 2015

About the Author

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