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Cannonball Read III: How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

By mswas | Books | December 2, 2011 |

By mswas | Books | December 2, 2011 |

Ahhhh, at last, a Cannonball Read book that I can unhesitatingly recommend! True, I did love The Tiger, but I read that in December, and this year so far I haven’t read anything that I’d feel was worth recommending… until now. [Please note that mswas wrote this review in mid-January—TU.]

“I had always been a disobedient girl.”

Thus opens How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway, a wonderful read that I didn’t want to end.

How to Be an American Housewife tells the story of mother and daughter, Shoko and Sue, who are very different, but are both trying to find happiness. Shoko was born in Japan and married an American G.I. after the end of World War II. She brings a book called ‘How to Be an American Housewife’ with her to America. Excerpts from this book begin each chapter, and we see how the authors instruct Japanese women on how to please their husbands and fit in to American society.

When you marry and integrate with Americans, it is only natural not to have friends. Most American women will dislike you. Perhaps looking for other Japanese women will be possible, but probably not. Expect to be alone much of the time. Children help relieve this melancholy.
…you must work as hard as you can to prove yourself more than equal—the most polite, the best worker, an adept English learner, the most well-turned-out Housewife your husband could ever ask for. This is your duty, to both your home country and to your new one.

Shoko reminisces about her life in Japan and coming to America, but her chapters in the first half of the book also focus on her current life. Shoko’s heart has always been bad, but now it is seriously failing. However, she still wants to go to Japan to reconcile with her brother Taro who shunned her for marrying an American. Unfortunately she is too ill to travel, so she must ask her daughter, Sue, to go in her stead.

“I had always been an obedient girl”

Opening with this sentence, Sue’s chapters take up the latter half of the novel. As she and her own daughter, Helena, travel to Japan seeking her uncle, Sue thinks about growing up with her Japanese mother, American father, and much older brother. In some cases we do see both the mother’s and the daughter’s side of the same situations.

To my mother, the number four was bad. “Never take four,” she admonished me when I took four dumplings once at dinner. “earn death. Or two. Bad manner. One or three or five.” Same with sticking your hashi straight up and down in the rice bowl. “Only at funeral!” Mom admonished.
You couldn’t pick Mike ouit of a crowd as my brother. He was a stranger off the street. I had never run out to the tree on Christmas morning with Mike, to see what Santa had left us… But Mike was there when we needed him to be.

Margaret Dilloway’s lovely first novel is beautifully and thoughtfully written. I won’t spoil the ending for you and tell you if Sue finds her uncle, if her mother survives her heart surgery, or if Mike becomes closer with his family. I will just urge you to go get this book and find out for yourself.

For more of mswas’ reviews, check out her blog, BGW Designs aka MsWas.

This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information, click here.

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