Thursday, July 29th, 2010
“I got a piece of tissue-thin airmail stationery and my husband’s fountain pen out of the desk drawer. Sitting down on the floor at the coffee table, I put the pen to my lips, thinking. From the garage, Charlie sang as he put laundry in the washer. One of my adult son Mike’s cats meowed at the screen door. I began my letter to Taro.”
How to Be An American Housewife
By Margaret Dilloway
Shoko is a Japanese war bride who at the start of the novel has one dream she still wishes to fulfill and that is to get in touch with her brother, Taro. After she married an American GI and moved to the States, Shoko’s brother cut all ties with her.
In the meantime, Shoko has tried to be the perfect American housewife. Her husband, Charlie, is a good man but perhaps doesn’t understand the alienation that Shoko feels in the new country and away from her family. She has never been able to go back to see them and now growing old and with serious health issues Shoko is desperate to go to Japan to see her brother.
Her doctor won’t allow that and Shoko asks her daughter to go in her place. Sue feels like she’s never lived up to her mother’s standards. She married the wrong guy, always at odds with her mother and now a single-parent but when she realizes that Shoko is really quite ill she knows she can’t say “no” to her mother and she and her young daughter embarks on a trip that will change their life.
The novel is broken into two sections, the first part narrated by Shoko and revealing the secrets of the life she had in Japan. At the beginning of each chapter a little advice note from an imagined handbook of how to behave in a new country sets the tone for the loneliness, confusion and adventures that await Shoko. The second part is narrated by Sue and tells of how she comes to learn more about her mother and herself while on her trip abroad.
This was quite an engaging debut which I found hard to put down but I just wish we’d heard all of the story from Shoko’s point of view. I understand perhaps it was set up this way to explore a mother-daughter relationship from both sides but Shoko’s part was really fascinating to me because it dealt with the customs and way of life in Japan during the war. Sue’s part of the story I found a little bit harder to get into although that may just have been because I found Shoko a much stronger character and one I wanted to keep reading about.
You can read about what inspired the author to write the book here. I read this book as part of the TLC Book tours and you can read more reader reviews of this book by checking the schedule here. Anyway, I hope you’ll add this book to your wishlist. I know, I’ll be looking forward to Dilloway’s next book.