Publication Date: August 2011
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: Paperback, 352pp
(Received for an honest review from Berkley NAL)
Excerpt from How to be an American Housewife
When Shoko decided to marry an American GI and leave Japan, she had her parent's blessing, her brother's scorn and a gift from her betrothed - a book titled How to Be an American Housewife.
As she crossed the ocean to America, Shoko also carried a secret she wanted to keep her entire life...
Half a century later, Shoko's plans to finally return to Japan and reconcile with her brother are derailed by illness. Instead, she sends her grown American daughter, Sue, a divorced single mother with a teenage daughter of her own. As Sue and Helena take in Japan, with all its beauty and contradictions, they also discover another side to Shoko, and return to America irrevocably touched, irrevocably changed.
At heart a mother-daughter story. How to Be an American Housewife explores the intricacies of assimilation, the price of secrets, and the enduring, healing power of familial love.
Margaret Dilloway's poignant and endearing debut novel, How to Be an American Housewife is being released in paperback to a whole new section of readers. This gripping story tale is one Japanese war brides story of how she married a GI and tried to become the perfect American wife. Based loosely on the life of Dilloway's mother, this book is truly a mother-daughter story that will have readers both cheering and exploring their own relationships with their mothers. One of my favorite reads of the year!
A young Japanese woman named Shoko marries an American GI and returns to America following WWII. Shoko experiences culture shock when she finds that everything in America is very different from her homeland. Knowing her parents thought this was her opportunity to seek the American dream, Shoko feels alone but she stands strong and tries to become the best American wife she can be. Armed with a book given to her by her American husband, Charlie, Shoko begins a journey into becoming an American housewife. She is often alone and shunned by other people but she holds her head high and gives Charlie two beautiful children. Suiko (Sue) and Mike. But she continues to long for her home and her family. When she decides to return to Japan to reconcile with her brother Taro she becomes very ill and has to send her daughter instead. Sue has been through a terrible divorce and has a teenage daughter who accompanies her to Japan. Sue and her mother have never really seen eye to eye and when Sue begins to see where her mother came from and who she really is, she learns more about her than ever before.
Margaret Dilloway's book, How to Be an American Housewife, can best be described as a mother-daughter relationship story, but it's much more than that. It's easy to see that Dilloway's experience with her own mother weighs heavily in this story and has given her a great premise and idea of what to write about. I loved everything about this novel. It is emotional, it's gripping, it made me shudder, it made me smile, you name it, I probably experienced it while reading this one! I think readers who enjoy books about familial relationships will be drawn to this one, as well as, readers who are looking for something diverse and interesting.
Dilloway shows a real knack for developing characters. She starts the story off from the point of view of Shoko, who tells readers about her childhood and what life was like growing up in Japan. How different it was from growing up in America! Dilloway uses this part of the book to endear her character to the reader. Alternating between flash backs and memories Shoko describes how the war devastated her country and her family. Dilloway's descriptions are poignant and realistic. The reader is easily transports back to WWII and into the streets of Nagasaki when the bombs were falling. Shoko's story of how her parents decided she should marry an American serviceman and how she took photo's and allowed her father to choose who she would marry was engaging and full of emotion. Readers will find Shoko a strong willed character, full of spunk and determination. America isn't what she imagined it would be, but she isn't easily deterred. Dilloway does an amazing job of introducing Shoko and making her someone readers wanted to learn about.
One of the most interesting parts of the book was the fictional book Dilloway uses to show what Shoko was up against. Used at the beginning of each chapter this book describes Shoko's process of becoming a good American housewife giving hints and ideas about how to assimilate to the American culture. There were parts that made me smile but others that made me shudder. I really had no idea what these women went through. They were distrusted, shunned and lived a very stark existence and they believed that was the price of having the American dream. It never ceases to amaze me how intolerant and mean spirited people can be. Shoko was a proud woman, and she stood up well under that kind of mistreatment. I applaud the author for making her strong and showing how ignorant people can be. It also came across in how Mike and Sue were treated because they were of mixed race. People during that time were cruel to these women who were different, times haven't changed all that much have they?
I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the relationship between Sue and her mother and how she was able to learn about her and get a greater understanding of who she was and how she came to be that way. I liked the fact that finding out about her mother's experiences changed her life as well. Dilloway does a fantastic job of telling this story, first from Shoko's point of view, then Sue's as she journeys to Japan, and then from both points of view, as mother and daughter share a moment of clarity and begin to see each other for who they really are. Such a poignant novel, full of emotion and ultimately understanding.
I recommend this one to mothers and daughters. I think it would be a great selection for book clubs. I would appeal to those interested in post WWII America and to those intrigued by the Japanese culture. Dilloway gives the reader a lot to digest and shows the bonds between family members in stark detail. This is really a book you don't want to miss.
How to Be an American Housewife is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.
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I'm giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book bag!
Margaret Dilloway was inspired by her Japanese mother's experiences when she wrote this novel, and especially by a book her father had given her mother called The American Way of Housekeeping. Dilloway lives in Southern California with her husband and their three young children. This is her first novel.