Monday, August 2, 2010

How to be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads because LibraryThing's site was down):   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.

And this is what I thought:  I really enjoyed how Margaret Dilloway wrote this book in such a way that I felt like I really got into the heads of the two main characters, Shoko and Sue.   Shoko's story of growing up in Japan and then marrying an American serviceman gave me insight not only into Japanese culture at that time, but also made me think about how difficult it would be to marry (and move) into a completely different culture.   The way that Dilloway writes, I felt like Shoko really came alive as I was reading, and I felt sympathetic as she experienced love, and loss.   She's one of those kinds of luminous characters -- sometimes, she was a little feisty, and sometimes she gave in to a situation, but I always felt like there was a bit of a glow around her. 

I also really liked how Dilloway contrasted the story of Sue, Shoko's daughter, against the first part of the book (which was Shoko's story).  The relationship between mother and daughter was written in a very realistic way, with communication and misunderstanding between the two sometimes causing stress.  I found Sue to be a somewhat frustrating character, until I read more of her story, and then found her to be interesting and sympathetic, as well.   Just the beginnings of both of their stories illustrates how similar or different the two are.  When we start the book, Shoko begins by saying, "I had always been a disobedient child."   When we start Sue's story in the second part of the book, Sue begins by saying, "I had always been an obedient girl."   This contrast really made me think about their relationship, and then reflect on mother-daughter relationships in general.   It also broke the story into the two halves, with a nice resolution bringing both sides together. 

One other thought-provoking part of this book were the little paragraphs from the "How to be an American Housewife" book that preceded each chapter. The idea such a book, giving advice in both Japanese and English to a woman who would be marrying into the American culture, made me think about how different cultures view each other.   The advice sometimes was wryly amusing, but at other times, struck me as a little sad.   But, having these paragraphs precede each chapter lent an interesting flavor to what was going to follow next.

Overall, a good book.  I have seen other reviews that compared this book to some of Amy Tan's books (Kitchen God's Wife, etc).  I think that might be partly because of the Asian-American cultures in both stories, but also because both of these authors write realistically about the way that mother-daughter relationships can develop.  This book had great pacing, well-written characters, and a great story that pulled me in and kept me reading just because I cared about the characters so much.     The author did base the book on her own mother's experiences, so if you'd like to know more about Margaret Dilloway, I've included this link.

Where I got this book:  ARC received via the publisher -- from LibraryThing early reviewers. 


Jenny said...

I've heard such great things about this book. Can't wait to read it!!!

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