Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Review: How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

Description of How to Be an American Housewife:
A lively and surprising novel about a Japanese woman with a closely guarded secret, the American daughter who strives to live up to her mother’s standards, and the rejuvenating power of forgiveness.

How to Be an American Housewife is a novel about mothers and daughters, and the pull of tradition. It tells the story of Shoko, a Japanese woman who married an American GI, and her grown daughter, Sue, a divorced mother whose life as an American housewife hasn’t been what she’d expected. When illness prevents Shoko from traveling to Japan, she asks Sue to go in her place. The trip reveals family secrets that change their lives in dramatic and unforeseen ways. Offering an entertaining glimpse into American and Japanese family lives and their potent aspirations, this is a warm and engaging novel full of unexpected insight.

My Thoughts:

How to Be an American Housewife is a captivating debut novel by Margaret Holloway. The story begins as Shoko, a Japanese woman, tells us the story of her turbulent life as a child growing up during the invasion of Japan and the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. She marries an American soldier, Charlie, at the suggestion of her father so that she could make a new life in America. Shoko tells her story in flashbacks as she is now an older woman suffering from a heart condition that may have resulted from radiation exposure from the bombings in Japan. Her greatest desire is to return to Japan and mend her relationship with her brother Taro who has not spoken to her since she married an American man.

Shoko's new life in America is a hard one to adjust to. She is married to a Navy man and they move every three years. She has a child, Mike, within the first year of her marriage and a girl, Suiko, many years later. It is hard for Shoko to find friends as she is different culturally and her English is not well refined. She must learn the ways of being an American housewife which is a challenge as the cultures are so different. Her husband Charlie, gives her a homemaking guide, a book called The American Way of Housekeeping which ends up being a wonderful resource for Shoko. At the beginning of each chapter the author shares an excerpt from this fictional guide which were fun to read. Here are a few excerpts that I found interesting:

"When you marry and integrate with Americans, it is only natural no 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."
-From the chapter Culture for Women," How to Be an American Housewife (Pg.37 ARC)


Spaghetti Sauce is the easiest American recipe to make, as long as you remember all the steps and do it far in advance. Letting it sit overnight in the refrigerator is best for developing its flavors. Add sugar if the sauce is too acidic.

Your Husband will be amazed when he comes home to a big pot of spaghetti sauce. It is also a crowd-pleaser. Even little babies and Japanese people like spaghetti sauce.

-From the chapter, "Cooking Western-Style" How to Be an American Housewife (Pg. 110, ARC)

The novel shifts in the second half as it is told through Shoko's daughter Suiko also known as "Sue". Shoko and Sue have their challenges as mother and daughter over the years. Much of it was due to cultural differences as Shoko was raised in Japan and Sue is being raised in a much different cultural environment in America.  Sue is now an adult, a struggling single mother of a daughter Helena, who is 12. Shoko asks Sue to travel to Japan in her place and to find her brother Taro. Sue is hesitant but her daughter Helena convinces her to go together. Their trip to Japan is life changing for them all and opens the hearts of many family members which allows them to let go of past secrets and embrace the future.

HHow to Be an American Housewife highlights the conflicts between cultures and how to adapt to them, the challenges between Japanese mothers and their American born daughters and coming to terms with hidden secrets and family discoveries. I enjoyed this book immensely and felt that it is a story that anyone will enjoy but especially those who are daughters of foreign born mothers. My own mother was foreign born and raised, not from Japan but from Germany. She met my father, an American stationed in Germany and she spoke very little English when she came to America. We didn't have the issue of appearances being different but culturally there were differences. Food, holidays, religions were different just as Shuko and Charlie were of different backgrounds and religions. Melding families of different backgrounds and being a parent in a culture that is different from the one you've been raised in is a challenge. I can see that as an adult now, looking back and I have great respect for my mother and for women who face these challenges when they integrate themselves and their families into a different culture. They are leaving behind their immediate families and past to start anew. It is not easy and takes great inner strength and determination to make it work. I found that Ms. Dilloway did a superb job through her writing to express this point and so many others throughout this book.

I especially enjoyed reading that the author, Ms. Dilloway, based this book on inspiration from her own Japanese mother's experiences including her heart condition. Sadly, Ms. Dilloway's mother died when she was in her 60's and Margaret was just 20. This novel is fiction but there are several stories included that were directly from her mother's life. Ms. Dilloway's father did give her mother a copy of a book called The American Way of Housekeeping which was a guide written in Japanese with English translation and inspired the writing of How to Be an American Housewife. The book was actually written for housekeepers but was often used as a guide for housewives because there was nothing else to guide them. You can read more about The American Way of Housekeeping, here on Ms. Dilloway's website.

About Margaret Dilloway:

Margaret Dilloway was inspired by her Japanese mother’s experiences when she wrote this novel, and especially by a book her father had given to her mother called The American Way of Housekeeping. She lives in Hawaii with her husband and three young children.

How to Be an American Housewife is her first novel.

Visit Margaret’s blog, American Housewife, HERE.

Reading Group Guide for How To Be An American Housewife, HERE.

I read How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway as part of her book tour with TLC Book Tours. You can check out other tour stops and reviews, here.

Disclosure: Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a review copy of this book. I am an Amazon and Indiebound associate.


  1. I've got a copy of this one and am really looking forward to reading it. You wrote such a nice review. Thanks for sharing about your life and family.

  2. Everyone seems to be loving this book! I've got to get my hands on a copy - it sounds like something I would love.

  3. I am so looking forward to getting a copy of this one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Bonnie.

  4. Sounds like a really beautiful book--I would think it would be especially difficult right after the war to make the transition over to the states. My grandparents came over from Switzerland (to Canada) and actually tried to strip a lot of the cultural nuances from their lives as the Germans were sometimes viewed badly (at least according to my grandmother who refused to teach her children German because of it).

    Thanks for bringing this one to my attention Bonnie!

  5. I really enjoyed this book, too. My mother was born in Germany but mostly raised in the U.S., so this story sort of reminded me of my mom and gram.

    I hope it's okay to link to your review on War Through the Generations.


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