Bookworms love words, at least this bookworm loves words. Any novel with the word ‘dictionary’ in the title will always get a second glance from me. A DICTIONARY OF MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING is true to its promise and every chapter is headed by a Japanese word with its meaning.
So much for etymology, what about the plot? With a broad Japanese brush our heroine is Amaterasu. She and her husband left Nagasaki after the nuclear blast unable to face the ghosts. At the beginning of the story, Amaterasu is an elderly widow, her main companion is the bottle. One day, an extremely scarred man knocks on her door claiming to be her grandson. He was one of the ghosts that she had left behind in Nagasaki, how could he be alive? He has bought a pile of his Mother’s letters to prove his story. His Mother is another of the ghosts that Amaterasu deserted.
From there we are catapulted back to the prosperous port that was Nagasaki before the Second World War. We meet the young Amaterasu in love with a young man. We meet Kenzo her future husband and her daughter, Yuko. Yuko falls in love unwisely but is persuaded by her parents to enter a more desirable arranged marriage. Yuko has a son Hideo.
Then the bomb drops. Amaterasu and Kenzo search for their daughter and grandson in vain. The places where they should be have been destroyed beyond hope of survival. They search hospitals populated with people with unimaginable wounds. Only when all hope is gone do they leave for America. How on earth can this man be her grandson?
We find out all the missing links, along with the meaning of many Japanese words. Most important of all those words is Pikadon. Pika means bright light and don means boom. It is the word that was invented for the nuclear blast. The story kept me engaged but most of all I loved the words and geography. The only thing I knew about Nagasaki before was that it was the site of a nuclear bomb blast: now I know that it was a beautiful prosperous military port.
DISCLAIMER: I was sent a review copy by NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Published by Windmill
Paperback £7.99, Kindle £4.99