Home > contemporary, Genre, historic > Book Review: How To Be An American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

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

Japanese woman in traditional kimono and lotus flowers.Summary:
Shoko dealt with the consequences of her decision to acquiesce to her father’s wishes and marry an occupying American soldier and return with him to America in the 1940s.  She did her best to hold onto the best parts of being a Japanese woman and meet the expectations of being an American housewife.  But now she is sick from an enlarged heart, possibly the result of radiation from the bombs dropped on Nagasaki, and the consequences of her multiple decisions made in the war and occupation years are coming back to haunt her.  Although her relationship with her biracial daughter, Suiko, is strained, Suiko still does her best to assist her mother, and in the process, learns something about herself.

I came into this book expecting it to be your typical book about an immigrant adapting herself to the surrounding culture.  That’s really not what this book is about, and that actually is a good thing.  It subtly addresses how complex not only family can be but inter-cultural relations as well.  The world no longer consists of the simple, straight-forward rules that Shoko grew up with.  Since the world is a smaller place, the concepts of what one should or should not do slowly change throughout her life.

Of course, I find everything about Japan completely fascinating, so I enjoyed getting to see it not only through Shoko’s eyes, but through her daughter Suiko’s as well.  Japan truly has changed drastically in the last 70 or so years, and showing the difference in experience simply from Grandmother Shoko to graddaughter Helena is astounding.  Often in America we only think about how our own nation has changed, but this is true for others as well.  Reading about it is a mind-broadening experience.

Dilloway also handles the delicate situation of dealing not only with your parents’ immortality but also their fallibility and essential humanness in a gentle manner.  It is there, but it is not preachy.  It simply reflects the experience of realizing as an adult that your parents are people too, and they’ve had their own life experiences that they regret or have dealt with in their own way.

Still, although I found the story enjoyable to read, it fell short of being deeply moving or memorable.  It felt as if it ended too soon, or we didn’t find out enough about everyone’s stories.  In particular although I understood and felt for Shoko at the beginning of the story, by the end I felt distanced from her, wheras I was still rooting for Suiko.  I think some of the choices Dilloway made for Shoko did not fit with the tone of the rest of the story.

Overall, I recommend this enjoyable read to fans of contemporary or historical realistic fiction with themes of inter-generational and inter-cultural conflicts.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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  1. Tam
    December 9, 2010 at 8:51 am

    What a great review! I have another book to add to my TBR list

    • December 9, 2010 at 12:24 pm

      Thanks, Tam! So glad I could help add to the list. 🙂

  2. December 9, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Thanks for sharing this great review.

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