Author: Margaret Dilloway
Title: How to be an American Housewife
Author: Margaret Dilloway
Plot: This novel recounts events in the lives of several generations of women in one family. It begins with the grandmother, Shoko, who marries an American soldier after World War II. She moves to the United States with him and begins the process of trying to learn to be a proper American housewife, including all the new habits she most adopt and some that she must leave behind for being too Japanese. She and her husband, Charlie, have a daughter, Sue, who in turn has a child of her own, Helena. Two complimentary stories are contained in this novel, one describing Shoko's life as a young woman, before and immediately following her marriage to Charlie, and the second revolving around the decision of Shoko that Sue and Helena should travel to Japan in order to reconnect with their heritage and her brother, and bond that was destroyed when Shoko decided to marry an American.
Quote: "Adjusting to the U.S. was difficult in other ways for me, especially in the beginning. If I borrowed an egg from a neighbor, I returned two, the Japanese way. They didn't understand; why did I give them two? It made them angry, like I was insulting them. When you "borrowed" an egg or a cup of sugar in America, you never actually returned it."
Review: Although the stories recounted in both time periods depicted in this book are good, the first, that of Shoko as a girl and young woman, was particularly engaging. The author describes a life that was shaped by World War II and Americans, first in the dangers Shoko encountered in simple acts - walking to school or going to sleep at night included as examples of activities that could at any moment be thrown into chaos by the arrival of American planes. One the war is over, its affects continue to define Shoko, including by opening doors for young, educated women to leave their rural homes and take jobs in the city, many catering to the GIs stationed there. Once her father has decided that her marriage to an American GI is the best decision for Shoko's family, she and Charlie have a rapid courtship, culminating in marriage and eventually the move to the U.S. This portion of the story is both gripping and entertaining, especially since it is interspersed with quotations from a fictitious self-help book (which shares this book's title) that gives Japanese women advice on how to deal with the strange habits of their American husbands, neighbors, and children, including on topics such as "turning American," "American housekeeping," and "cooking Western-style." The second half, focusing on Shoko's daughter and granddaughter, is not as engaging, but still a fine read.