Monday, June 21, 2010

Historical Fiction Hit: How To Be An American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

I have always frowned upon American G.I.s marrying foreign women and bringing them back. Too many of those women seduce or coerce or manipulate their way over here. There are some cases tho, in which the G.I. has his eyes wide open.. so even tho, I don't think these people are marrying for the right reasons (love), whatever floats their boat.. However, my bias did not get in the way of my enjoying this story. I was able to see and understand the other side of the bargain, in this case, Shoko's.

Shoko grew up in a war torn Japan. After Americans exact their revenge on Japan for Pearl Harbor, Shoko is enouraged to work on the American military base and find herself a husband because "America is the way of the future." She turns her back on true love and begins dating a series of American men and obediently takes their photos home to her father so that he may choose her husband. And that is how Charlie, a Navy guy, ended up wed to Shoko.

Upon arriving in the United States, Shoko tries hard to be a perfect wife, dutifully following the instructions in her "How To Be An American Housewife" cookbook with Japanese translations. The United States in the 1950s and 60s was not an easy place for immigrants tho, nor was it peaches and cream for her half Japanese children. Shoko doesn't exactly get the dream life she thought she would but does the best she can. However, in the back of her head, she misses her family and wishes to make amends with her brother who disowned her for marrying an American.

As a result of a toxic bomb that was dropped a mere 50 miles from her home during world war 2, Shoko has a heart issue. She is dying and not able to go to Japan one last time. She begs her daughter Sue to go in her place. Sue has issues of her own. She is struggling as a single working mom. Is a trip to Japan what Sue needs to do her own healing? Can she succeed in finding her uncle and mending the rift between her mother and her Japanese family? Shoko is running out of time. Surgery may or may not extend her life. Dying or living in peace all rests on her daughter;s shoulders.

A great and thoroughly engrossing novel about immigration. Thru Shoko we see life for immigrant women in America and the daily struggles they deal with. Thru Sue we experience dealing with a family from two very different cultures and the conflicting emotions that raises.

The author based this book on her real mother, now deceased. In the author's note, the author states that when she was going thru her mother's belongings, she found a cookbook, "The American Way of Housekeeping," written in Japanese and English. Thus, the idea for "How To Be An American Housewife" was born. The original cookbook was published in 1948.


  1. Very good review Tara, sounds like an interesting read. One has to wonder what the GI thinks once they get there new bride back home and started seeing the way there treated. Be nice to hear a mans perspective on this one,

  2. I've got this on my large "to-read" shelf from BEA. Can't wait to read it.

  3. Aparently, your blog hates me and doesn't want to share my name or let me sign in via Wordpress.

    -The Girl from the Ghetto

  4. You wrote:
    I have always frowned upon American G.I.'s marrying foreign women and bringing them back. Too many of those women seduce or coerce or manipulate their way over here.

    You seem to be painting with a pretty broad stroke here. While I do plan to read the book, I think I'll be approaching it with a lot less bias.

  5. My bias didn't prevent me from liking the book. At least I come clean in my review.

  6. And I'm not saying that all women have ulterior motives.. but in this case, the heroine's father tells her "Marry an American GI." She begins dating numerous American GIs and takes pictures of the "candidates" and takes them home to her father. She passes up true love to marry a GI. I'm sorry, but that's not the right reason to marry someone. Marriage should not be a business arrangement. My personal opinion.