Jackie Copleton ||A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding

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Just imagine: you open the door and the heavily mutilated man who has rung your doorbell claims to be your grandson. The grandson you have presumed dead ever since the bomb fell on Nagasaki.  And if he tells you that he has been taken in and raised by the man who broke your heart and ruined your daughter’s life: what do you do? Do you welcome him into your arms and your life, or do you send him away because you cannot cope with  the thought that you should have kept on searching for your lost ones? That is the question Copleton confronts us with. In A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding main character Yuko is living a lonely life somewhere in the US.  Her husband has died, they moved from Japan to the US because they could not face life without their beloved ones in their annihilated home town. The arrival of her alleged grandson Hideo upsets Yuko’s life, it makes her go back to her youth, the man who broke her heart, her marriage and her daughter, who has fallen for the charm of that same womaniser.  Yuko is not an easy person, she sticks to the customs of Japanese society, not realizing that some leeway might have worked out better for her daughter. Copleton takes her time to reveal the big secret that has determined Yuko’s life and which has made her raise her daughter strictly, clinging to tradition. Copleton’s style is restrained,  using beautifully constructed sentences and carefully chosen words, ensuring that fierce emotions remain balanced and do not turn into melodrama. The descriptions of Nagasaki, the bomb and its victims are gruesome, in other matters Copleton chooses to leave things to the reader’s imagination. I could appreciate the aloofness of the novel, it could have turned into melodrama easily. Or into a bombardment of things going dreadfully wrong. Only at the very end Copleton cannot resist to make things end well, immediately turning her novel into melodrama. As far as I am concerned this is the only criticism. I thoroughly enjoyed A Dictionary and cannot understand why it did not make the Bailey’s short list. Or may we conclude that the jury would have appreciated a  Copleton showing less restraint? I am glad she did, I liked A Dictionary as it is.





About booksandliliane

I am an avid reader and love to share my love for literature. I have my own opinion on books that have been shortlisted, laureated by critics or are pushed on us by bookstores. I will try and explain why I like or do not like a book. Hopefully influencing you in your choice of books to read.
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