Wednesday, August 24, 2011
When Shoko decided to marry an American GI and leave Japan, she had her parents' blessing, her brother's scorn, and a gift from her husband-a book on how to be a proper American housewife.
As she crossed the ocean to America, Shoko also brought with her a secret she would need 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. In her place, she sends her grown American daughter, Sue, a divorced single mother whose own life isn't what she hoped for. As Sue takes in Japan, with all its beauty and contradictions, she discovers another side to her mother and returns to America unexpectedly changed and irrevocably touched. -- Berkley
I love books about other cultures and that's one of the reasons that I was do drawn to HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE by Margaret Dilloway. However, I was also attracted to this book because I had read so many wonderful reviews about it. In fact, I almost feel as if I'm the last female blogger to read this book.
Naturally, I was interested in learning more about the Japanese culture, but I was also pretty sure that I was going to like HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE because it deals with a mother/daughter relationship. And I did enjoy HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE a great deal. I found this story (which is actually based on the author's grandmother and mother) to be very interesting. But I also found that this novel touched upon so many important issues in a woman's life like marriage, motherhood, relationships, and change.
One of my favorite things about HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE was how the author presented the story. The book had two narrators -- Shoko and her daughter Sue -- and they were very different women. I loved how the book went back and forth between their stories, and I appreciated how I could see the differences in the challenges they faced. It was interesting to see Shoko's life in Japan and then her life in the States, and I believe I was better able to understand her thoughts and actions because so much of the story was told in her voice. On the other hand, I liked hearing Sue's side of the story too. She was very different from her mother, and I found it fascinating to see how much her life changed after she learned about her heritage.
Another part of this novel that I also really enjoyed was the clippings from the book "How to Be an American Housewife" that occurred throughout the novel. Basically, these were little pieces of advice taken from a book that Shoko received from her husband to help her acclimate to the United States that tied into the following chapter. While these snippets were made up by the author, I have no doubt that they could have been real. I appreciated how the author tied these "words of wisdom" to Shoko's story, and at the same time, she provided a bit of comic relief for me -- I don't know if I would have made it as a housewife in the 1950s!
Finally, I enjoyed how HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE looked at the relationship between Shoko and Sue. Many mother-daughter relationships are complicated, and Shoko and Sue's was no different. Besides being very different in their approaches to marriage, motherhood, caretaking and communication, they also had cultural differences which made their relationship even more complex. I enjoyed seeing how both characters (and their relationship) evolved throughout the novel. It ended up being a story that touched my heart!
As far as book clubs are concerned, HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE would make a fantastic pick. There is a reading guide included in the back of the paperback edition with ten thought-provoking questions. I am confident in saying that this novel would be a hit with my book club, and I'm sure we could discuss the characters and their actions for hours. Some of the themes that you might want to delve into include mother/daughter relationships, adapting to new environments, differences in cultures, love, marriage, communication, and prejudices and stereotypes.
I highly recommend HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE to fans of women's fiction. It's an entertaining and interesting story but also one that makes you think. And isn't that what makes a novel special?
Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this book.
Giveaway alert: I have a copy of HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE to share with one very lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before Tuesday, September 6th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of of you with U.S. and Canada addresses only. Good luck!