How to Be an American Housewife is a novel about mothers and daughters, and the pull of tradition. It tells the story of Shoko, a Japanese woman who married an American GI, and her grown daughter, Sue, a divorced mother whose life as an American housewife hasn't been what she'd expected. When illness prevents Shoko from traveling to Japan, she asks Sue to go in her place. The trip reveals family secrets that change their lives in dramatic and unforeseen ways. Offering an entertaining glimpse into American and Japanese family lives and their potent aspirations, this is a warm and engaging novel full of unexpected insight.
As the first generation daughter of Asian immigrants to the US, I am always on the lookout for books that tell the stories of immigrant parents and their American born children. It doesn't matter what culture the people are from. The stories end up all being the same of people having to adapt to a new culture and wanting what's best for their children, while the children struggle with both their parents' culture and their new homegrown one. Since I am Asian American though, I really enjoy the stories that involve Asian immigrants. One of my favorites is The Joy Luck Club which I think pretty much explains my mother's relationship with my sisters and me. I had heard several comparisons of this book with The Joy Luck Club so I had been looking forward to reading it.
The writing is beautiful. I felt really drawn into both Shoko and Sue's stories. I could see both the scenes in Japan and in American clearly from the narrative. Shoko's story is sad. While she made most of her own choices, the way that things happened just were done very melancholy. Her transition to the American lifestyle must have been difficult as she is mostly alone except for her husband. It's understandable for her children then to not be able to fully understand their mother because a lot of her culture she didn't share with them.
Japanese culture is rich in this book. The first half of the story is told in flashback's from Shoko's point of view so we see the country through familiar eyes. Then during the second half, Sue visits the country for the first time and everything is seen with wonder and newness. It is also interesting to see the Japanese viewpoint of Pearl Harbor and the atomic bomb droppings. There are many stories from the American point of view that show the Japanese as the bad guys so to see the flip side is always informative and enlightening.
The excerpts from the fictional guidebook that Shoko used are both informational and unintentionally amusing. It's a good way to showcase how the culture was during that time, both for the Japanese war brides and how Americans viewed women in general. I went on the author's website to see the actual book she based this book on, and it's quite interesting to read the actual tips that were recommended.
If there was anything I would add to the book, it would be possibly seeing things from Charlie's point of view. I feel that his character was only seen from his wife and daughter's POVs so therefore we never get a full sense of his personality. I would have very much liked to know what he was thinking when he arrived in Japan and met Shoko and then his experience of having an interracial marriage in America. Actually I think it would be a great book to do the same story from Charlie and Mike's POVs. That would be excellent to get the same story from the views of the men in the family, especially with the revelation of the truth about Mike.
Honestly this book is one of the best books that I have read in 2010. As soon as I go back to visit my parents' home, I will be giving this book to my mother to read. I have a feeling that she is going to be able to relate to Shoko a lot and will therefore enjoy this book as well. This is a great book for mothers and daughters, and especially for anyone who parent was an immigrant to the US. It's a wonderful way to experience culture through reading. VERY HIGHLY recommended.
How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway is published by Putnum (2010)
This ARC was provided for a tour with TLC Book Tours