Tuesday, April 12, 2016

book review: A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding

narrated by Nancy Wu

The backstory: A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding was longlisted for the 2016 Baileys Prize.

The basics:  "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."--publisher

My thoughts: I started this book on audio but switched to print about half way through.The reader, Nancy Wu, was good, and I appreciated her pronunciations of the Japanese names and words, but she read relatively slowly. The book is less than 300 pages, but the audio is over 11 hours. I reached a point where I wanted to finish more quickly than the audio would allow. It's rare for me to listen to half of a book and read the other half, and I find myself pondering how those different reading experiences come together in this novel.

The premise is an interesting one. It's rich with family secrets, history and mystery. Interestingly, I found the central mystery--is the man at Amaterasu's door really Yuko--the least compelling part of the narrative. Interspersed between that provocative beginning and the end are many more mysteries, and these smaller stories captivated me more. Throughout all of these mysteries there was a fair amount of foreshadowing, so some of the reveals felt inevitable by the time they appeared.

Favorite passage: "I am suspicious of nostalgia, pliable as it can be to our moods or needs, but sometimes I allowed the memories, however dubious, to take me to the bar before Sato, when the glow of the lamps was the only sign of time passing, or enery spent, or old jokes shared not just to fill the silence."

The verdict: Copleton attempts to tell the story of one family but also to tell the story of a generation and the impact of the war. I found the novel at times uneven, fascinating, captivating and dull. Overall, I preferred it more in print than on audio, but I'm glad to have had Wu's pronunciations to rely on as I read the last half.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 11 hours 9 minutes (299 pages)
Publication date: December 1, 2015
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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