Though the plot centers on the characters' losses due to the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945, the it's wonderfully woven and hold up on its own, without milking that one event for too much pathos. The characters are charming and their stories complicated and believable. I really enjoyed reading it.
I do wonder at the central organization of the novel, as a dictionary. The chapters are very short and each one starts with the explanation of a term central to Japanese culture and the story itself. It's a nice touch, but I don't know why it's there. None of the characters in the story are non-Japanese, and the reader is never brought in directly as a participant, so who is this cultural dictionary for? Is it supposedly written by the main character? If so, we're never told. And mutual understanding... between who and who? That's not clear, either. Is she defending her actions? to us? There's something central to the conceptualization of the novel that is just not clear to me, and by about halfway through, I wanted to skip these definitions, since they seemed to intrude on the story too often. So hmmm.. I guess I don't get it.
The historical details are a bit puzzling, too. Nagasaki was the second bomb -- there is no mention anywhere in the book of Hiroshima. That seems beyond strange.
Okay, so the organization and the historical details were a bit puzzling. But I read for the characters, and so this was definitely a good one for me.