Review: How to Be An American Housewife
Author: Margaret Dilloway
Date Read: November 1, 2011
Excerpt from How to Be an American Housewife in the first chapter (there is an excerpt for each chapter)
Once you leave Japan, it is extremely unlikely that you will return, unless your husband is stationed there again or becomes wealthy.
Take a few reminders of Japan with you, if you have room. Or make arrangements to write to a caring relative who is willing to send you letters or items from your homeland. This can ease homesickness.
And be sure to tell you family, “Sayonara.”
–from the chapter “Turning American,” in Tamiko Kelly and Jun Tanaka’s, How to Be An American Housewife (1955).
“I had always been a disobedient girl. When I was four, we lived in a grand house with a courtyard and a koi fishpond. My father worked as a lawyer and we were still rich, rich enough to have beautiful silk dresses and for me to have dolls with real hair and porcelain faces, not the corn-husk dolls I played with later.”
Genre/Rating: Historical Fiction (with nonfiction elements)/ 4/5 stars
When I initially picked up this book, it was because, again, I liked the cover. (Ohh! Shiny object. Pause). Yeah, I am goober for being drawn by some books covers. Especially when I collect so many old books that are just solid colors and old-looking and well, definitely don’t have any beauty aesthetically. However, the times have changed and I am drawn to some books with pretty pictures on the front, and then I read the back. After reading this, and the inside back cover, I figured this could be an interesting read.
It was!! This book is partially based on the author’s and her mother’s personal experiences. Her father really did give her mother, Shoko, a guidebook called The American Way of Housekeeping when they first married after World War II.
What was so interesting about this book? Learning of different aspects of the Japanese culture and how a woman gave up that culture and her ties to it so she could move to the U.S. Back during those times, trying to assimilate into the American culture was beyond difficult. The themes in the book really focus on mothers and daughters and the different ways we communicate, or fail to communicate. There are also the prejudices and stereotypes in society and how Shoko’s guidebook also supports raising sons differently from daughters. We also see different types of motherhood and how time has changed these roles.
In so many ways it is heart breaking, and in others really quite funny. The book begins with a mystery and you follow it along with Shoko, who is no longer able to travel due to health issues, and who sends her daughter and granddaughter to Japan to find her last remaining relative. Her brother who she has been estranged from. The book goes back and forth between the past and the present; between Shoko narrating, and Sue, Shoko’s daughter.
It was an enjoyable read, and it took me maybe 3-4 days of reading it. (About an hour or two a night). I came away with a good feeling, an interest in learning more about Japanese culture, and wanting to establish my own traditions and work on my communication with my own daughter. I think it was a good read.
(Again, will be taking this to the Butt Club (book club) and suggesting to the girls). Hope you enjoy it and don’t forget to giggle.