When Shoko arrives in California on the arm of her GI husband, Charlie, she is determined to assimilate into American life. This proves to be easier said than done. The American ways don't always make sense to Shoko any more than her ways make sense to the American women she meets. Thrust into an isolated life, she does the best she can when it comes to being an American wife and mother. Her only guide to doing this is her trusty manual, How to Be an American Housewife, a book written for the Japanese woman resettling in America.
"HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE is a wonderful, touching and funny book guaranteed to make you smile. It will also likely make you phone your mother..."
Shoko is also challenged when it comes to bringing up her children in America. She raises her son, Mike, in typical Japanese fashion, pampering him and doing everything for him, and thus ends up with an overgrown child who shirks responsibility. She takes the opposite tack with her daughter, Sue, expecting more out of her and treating her more harshly. But this also backfires. The focal point of the story hinges on the relationship between Shoko and Sue, neither of whom seems able to understand the other. The one common bond they share is Sue's daughter and Shoko's granddaughter, Helena, and their mutual love for her.
Shoko's determination and wit are a contrast to her daughter's passivity and indecision. However, over time, each can learn from the other if only they will let their guard down long enough. When Shoko is unable to make a trip to Japan to reunite with her estranged brother, she wrangles Sue and Helena into making the journey for her. This is a turning point in their mother/daughter relationship. On the trip, Sue comes to see her mother in a new way in the context of the land from which she came. Suddenly, Shoko makes more sense to her, and Sue sees herself in a new light as well. At long last, she is able to connect with the Japanese roots she previously eschewed.
HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE is a wonderful, touching and funny book guaranteed to make you smile. It will also likely make you phone your mother when you're finished. You can't help but love the prickly Shoko as she navigates her way through the murky waters of American life. Her ties to Japan and the old ways are endearing, and her efforts to be an American are enchanting. Whatever she does, right or wrong, Shoko gives it her full effort.
This is a story that any mother and daughter will relate to. The love of a mother for her child trumps all else, and the battle of a daughter to assert her independence while coming to understand her mother as an individual is as old as the human race. Margaret Dilloway brings that all to life in a moving, uplifting tale that will stay with you long after the book is closed. I defy you not to root for these two characters and their dreams as you quickly turn the pages of HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE. It's a story well worth reading and one that begged to be told.
Reviewed by Amie Taylor on January 22, 2011
How to Be an American Housewife