Book Review ~ How To Be An American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

How to Be an American Housewife

Summary ~ 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.

Since leaving Okinawa, Japan in May 2009 I hadn’t really missed it more than the expected pang for a friend or a certain food that I just can’t seem to find in the D.C. area even though I could probably make it myself.  That was until I read How To Be An American HousewifeMargaret Dilloway has written a novel that is very special, interesting and could even be used in a social study of a Japanese/American marriage and the adjustments needed in order to make it through the day-to-day. 

Shoko-chan (“-chan” confused me because I was only familiar with the more formal/respectful “-san. Turns out “-chan” is attached to a name as a term of endearment like when calling a child “Yoko-chan! Dinner’s ready! You learn something new everyday!) survived the atomic bombing on Nagasaki, Japan in 1946.  Though the radiation probably affected her heart she continued to lead a full, at times drama enriched life as an “American housewife” after meeting an American G.I. while working the gift shop counter at a hotel near a U.S. military base.

The first part of Dilloway’s debut novel is told from Shoko’s point of view.  That included reading her spoken thoughts in broken English as a way to get across her lack of knowledge of the English language.  Usually writing dialogue this way with an accent comes across as distracting and annoying to me but because my ear is used to hearing the Japanese/Okinawan voice speaking this way in person it made it more realistic and easier to understand and imagine hearing Shoko-chan’s voice in my head. 

Part 2 is where we get to know Shoko’s daughter Sue and see Shoko through her eyes.  We also get to experience rural Japan through Sue and her daughter Helena’s “American” eyes as a first time visitors to the country and not being all that familiar with conversational Japanese.  Turns out Shoko didn’t speak Japanese very much as she was raising Sue. 

How To Be An American Housewife is a very good novel about a cross cultural family.  I enjoyed the social experimentation that this book can be viewed as and the quotes before every chapter from an imagined handbook titled “How To Be An American Housewife” cracked me up and had my jaw dropping to the floor.

{Rating ~ 4.5 out of 5}

I would like to thank Victoria Comella for sending me a review copy of How To Be An American Housewife!!  You’ve been great Victoria!  Thank You!!

3 thoughts on “Book Review ~ How To Be An American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

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