This was a selection of the BookiesII reading group – a question was asked about which book do you really wish you could read again for the first time and the name of the book under consideration came up. With those two prompts I decided to go ahead – I’d been reluctant prior. I probably should have followed my own instincts, but I got involved in the smarmy stuff anyway. lol
In my defense I did read some about it and the descriptors on the Goodreads page say historical fiction, fiction, culture > Japan, Historical, Cultural > Asia, War, WWII. That’s it – no “romance.”
A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding
by Jackie Copleton
2016 / 292 pages
read by Nancy Wu – 11h 9m
rating: 4 / historical fiction – romance (imo)
The story opens in a US city of the 1980s where Amaterasu Takahash, an old woman of Japanese ancestry, is visited by someone who says he’s her grandson. The story then quickly steps back via a diary and letters which the grandson has delivered to her. The woman also delves into her own memories of her daughter as well as her own life. The diary and letters involve illicit love and parental disapproval in the days of World War II. Amaterasu and her husband, Kenzo, had fled Japan after the bombing of Nagasaki thinking their daughter and her son were surely dead.
As the narrative moves along various informational sections appear which reveal some history and cultural background. But the main story is not how those things came to be – but rather how historical they are. The main story is how a teenage Japanese girl is romantically involved with an older married man and the repercussions on her whole life as well as the life of her parents. The plot is completely predictable, the language
Much of the history presented is so surface as to be irrelevant – the Portuguese visited, traded and built there in the 16th century and the the Edo period was primarily it the 18th century when the cult of the Samurai pretty much ended. These were NOT the grandparents of the people involved in WWII Japan. But I think Copleton is trying to connect the ancient and historical Japan to the difficulties of more contemporary times – There’s about as much connection as King Arthur to Margaret Thatcher (1980s) so imo, it’s a literary device used very clumsily (not saying it couldn’t be done).
I suppose the themes would be family secrets and loyalty along with love of many kinds and loss, maybe memory and the ravages of war. Unfortunately the soft, slow, wispy voice of Nancy Wu, the reader, adds nothing to the tale.
If you want Japanese historical fiction try The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell, Shogun by James Clavell, An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro or many others – Even The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flannagan has a lot about Japan during WWII or try an older book, A Town Called Alice by Nevil Shute.
Reminder to self – NO MAS historical romance – trust your instincts if the tag does not say romance specifically – do a bit more research. LOL!