How to Be an American Housewife (And Other Upsetting Historical Things.)

March 12, 2015 Audio Books, Historical Fiction, Women's Studies 21

Konnichiwa Bookworms!

Today you get a Japanese greeting because the main character in today’s book hails from Japan. I’m terribly appropriate, I know. A couple of years ago I read a book called The Care and Handling of Roses With Thorns (review) that knocked the socks right off my feet and halfway around the room. I made a mental note to check out ALL THE BOOKS by Margaret Dilloway, and in typical Katie fashion, it took me forever to do it. But do it I did! When I saw that How to Be an American Housewife was available from my library’s audio book section, I decided to give it a shot.

howtobeanamericanhousewifeHow to Be an American Housewife tells the story of Shoko, a Japanese woman who marries an American serviceman. The novel features a (fictional, thank heaven) instructional document that attempts to educate Japanese women emigrating to the US in their new country’s cultural expectations and domestic duties. It is, as you would expect, astonishingly offensive, but very telling of the time period’s social mores. Shoko is encouraged to cut ties with Japan and focus on assimilation. As is the case with most novels focusing on Asian immigrant mothers and their American born daughters, Shoko and her daughter Sue have a rather rocky relationship. As Shoko ages and her health fails, she desperately wants to make a trip back to Japan to mend fences with her brother. Because she is too frail to do so, she enlists Sue’s help to make the trip in her stead. Family secrets and heartbreak dovetail with hope and warmth making How to Be an American Housewife an enjoyable read.

I think that listening to this book was a good move, as Shoko’s English is very fragmented. I often struggle with reading heavily accented language, but listening to it is always a treat. In listening to the acknowledgements, I learned that Dilloway’s mother was, like Shoko, a Japanese immigrant married to an American GI. It’s clear that Shoko’s story was heavily influenced by her mother’s experience, which struck me as a beautiful tribute. What can I say? I’m a sucker for the mushy stuff. If you’re in the mood for a mother-daughter story with that Asian immigration twist, How to Be an American Housewife is not to be missed. Fans of Lisa See and Amy Tan, take note!

Talk to me, Bookworms! Have any of you lived in a country other than the one you were born and raised in? Did you experience culture shock? 

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21 Responses to “How to Be an American Housewife (And Other Upsetting Historical Things.)”

  1. thatashgirl

    Both of my parents were born in Europe so they had to deal with huge culture shock. Thankfully they both came to Toronto which has always been pretty diverse culturally so there are ethnic communities for every culture imaginable.

    • thatashgirl

      Also it kills me when I have to read something written phonetically or with culture specific slang. I’m looking at you Irvine Welsh and James Joyce!

    • Words For Worms

      I didn’t realize your parents were immigrants, that is very cool. Portugal, right? Do you speak any Portuguese? Would you be willing to teach me to bad words? (I tried to get some Polish girls in high school to teach me swears. They giggled and taught me the names of fruits instead. Probably for the best.)

      • ThatAshGirl

        Dad was born in Portugal, mom was born in Germany. I’m an ethnic mutt! Because they speak such different languages we spoke neither around the house growing up. Then they started tossing French at me at school. I’m not fluent in any of them. But I can ask for the bathroom, say thank you, and tell someone off in all 3. And I will totally teach you!

        • Words For Worms

          YESSSSSSSSS! ALL THE BAD WORDS! I took Spanish, so French, Portuguese, and German would be a boon. I can also yell “strawberry” in Polish very convincingly.

  2. Megan M.

    My family was in the military so I spent a chunk of my childhood living in Germany (and I was born there too!) I was so young, though, and we lived on base so it doesn’t count as culture shock. But I remember going to the candy store with my older sister and we had to communicate with gestures and then my sister would count the pfennigs we owed. And they had Kinder eggs! I still miss those. It was a hollow chocolate egg with a tiny toy inside. So fun!

      • ThatAshGirl

        Because they think American’s are stupid and the kids will try to eat the plastic toy in the middle?

        They sell them in Canada….just another reason for you to come visit!

  3. Jenny @ Reading the End

    England’s the only other place I’ve lived long-term besides the US, and even with that relatively minor change, there was some culture shock. And when I visited India last month there was alllll the culture shock.

    • Words For Worms

      I can only imagine! I went on a short trip to England in college and that was a bit jarring. A country where I didn’t speak the language that had so much DIFFERENT would be pretty mind blowing.

Talk to me, Bookworms!

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