Sunday, October 25, 2015

How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway ~ Book Review

When Shoko fell in love during the war in Japan, she couldn't tell a soul, and she couldn't bring herself to leave and marry her love.  Japanese culture dictated that the person she loved was not in the right caste and it would bring shame upon her family.  So when tragedy strikes,  Shoko decides to marry an American GI not for love but for a better life , her father picks her future husband from a pile of pictures of American suitors.  Leaving Japan, she was able to keep her parents honor and have their blessing but instead she incurred the scorn of her beloved brother.   Her now husband, trying to help her to fit in to American life, gives her a book called "How to be an American Housewife".   Written in both English and Japanese, in it are supposed gems of wisdom in helping the Japanese wife to navigate the differences in customs and attitudes and help to transition her into the Western Culture.

Now fifty years, after raising 2 children in America, Shoko desperately wants to return to Japan and see her family.  Not hearing from any of them during her life in America she wants to try to heal the rift with her brother and bring a treasured item home with her.  But now health problems prevent her from going and so she turns to her daughter to make the trip for her.  The things her grown daughter will learn on this trip will become life changing and will cause her to see her mother in a whole new light.

"For the first years of my marriage, it had been my handbook, 
my guide to doing everything.
Rules for living, American style.
Sometimes it was right, and sometimes it was not.
Sometimes I liked it and sometimes I didn't.
But that was just like life.
You don't always get what you want, do you?"
How to be an American Housewife
page 139

I loved this beautiful story.  There was so much to it.  The war, Japanese culture and attitudes, trying to assimilate into America, facing horrible prejudice, never fitting in, hiding secrets, love and loss.   The story starts in America with an aging Shoko and her husband Charlie, and then seamslessly moves into an account of Shoko's growing up years in Japan, of her young adult self full of beauty and potential, of the hard realities of war, her life in America and then moves into the trip her daughter and granddaughter make in her stead.  It is full of rich historical detail but never seams dry.  The author has woven it into the story very well.  The story starts in the voice of Shoko and then later also picks up the voice of Sue, her grown daughter.

In the author's notes it's interesting to find out that parts of the story are really from her own mother's experiences of coming to America and that the "How to be an American Housewife" book actually was inspired by a book found by the author amongst her mother's cookbooks called "The American way of Housekeeping".    Her father had given it to her mother thinking it was a book for housewives, but it really was a book for maids.  For the writing of the story, the author created her own version "keeping in mind how her own mother might have viewed the world back then, through her cultural lens.  (pg. 335 Author's Notes).

This ultimately is a lovely mother/daughter story but it is also a story of forgiveness and redemption, of prejudice and survival.  It is charming, ultimately uplifting and I loved it.

I rated it 10/10

Reading Challenge Goals Met:  A book based entirely on it's cover (I thought the cover was lovely)... A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit (Japan)... A book with a love triangle (kinda)... A book that made me cry... A book by an author I've never read... A book by a female author...A book set in a different country ( half of it)

Linked with Semicolon Saturday Review of Books


Indecision Personified said...

I just discovered your blog and I really like it! I look forward to adding you to my blogroll and following you! :-)

Thanks for all the reviews.

Barbara H. said...

That cover is lovely, and it sounds like a really interesting story.

Faith said...

this sounds great!!!

nikkipolani said...

Sounds like a fascinating read, Susanne. I do love it when an author can weave historical details without making it sound like an excerpt from a textbook.