How to Be an American Housewife: The Past and the Present
By Karen Ballum on October 05, 2011
BlogHer Original Post
When you pick up Margaret Dilloway's debut novel, How to be an American Housewife, you will find yourself ignoring everything around you as you read. It's a novel about mothers and daughters. It's a novel about siblings and home. Most of all, it's a novel about how the past is never really just the past.
When Shoko left her rural Japanese home and went to the city to find a job and a better life, she couldn't know all that would happen -- what chain of events would conspire to change her life. When she marries Charlie, she leaves her Japanese life and her family behind. She knows she may never come back. She knows that her brother Taro will never speak to her again and considers her a traitor. All she had to guide her was a book titled How to Be an American Housewife.
"For the first years of my marriage, it has been my handbook, my guide for doing everything. Rules for living, American style. Sometimes it was right, sometimes it was not. Sometimes I liked it and sometimes I didn't. But that was just like life. You don't always get what you want, do you?" p. 139
Sue is Shoko's daughter. Growing up with parents almost old enough to be her grandparents wasn't easy. Growing up with Shoko as a mother was even harder. It seemed to Sue that almost nothing she did made her mother happy and she so wanted to make her mother proud of her. She had dreams of fabulous careers, but after marrying her high school boyfriend and having a child by the age of 20 her goal becomes to be a better mother than her mother had been. What Sue doesn't know is that her mother has secrets in her past -- ones that she'll have to unravel and journey far to find.
Dilloway's novel is, in part, inspired by life. Her own mother left Japan after WW II for a new life in America. She also had heart problems and spoke a local dialect rather than what Shoko calls in the book "proper" Japanese. More than a decade ago, Dilloway was going through her parents' stuff and found a book titled The American Way of Housekeeping. Written by the American Ladies of the American Community in Japan. Written in both English and Japanese, its purpose was to help eliminate the language barrier between American housewives and their Japanese maids, but Dilloway's research suggested that some Japanese brides used it to help themselves assimilate to American culture. With that book and her mother's inspiration, a story was born.
While reading it, I found myself jotting down notes about forgiveness. How long can a sibling hold a grudge? Is the past ever really just the past? Please join us in BlogHer Book Club as we discuss these questions and more in our discussions about Margaret Dilloway's How to be an American Housewife.
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