Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How to Be an American Housewife (Margaret Dilloway, 2010)

The Heroine: Shoko, a Japanese war bride who left for America with her soldier husband in the 1940s and never returned to her home country again. Set in the present day, Shoko is now elderly and ill and is forced to ask her daughter, Sue, to return to Japan in her place in order to be reunited with her estranged brother. Honest, demanding and intelligent, Shoko hasn't always gotten along with her artistic and sensitive daughter, but the two must now find a way to bond over their shared lost heritage.

The Highs: The mother/daughter relationship between Shoko and Sue is very realistic and actually reminds me very much of conversations I've had with my own mother. While Shoko is well-meaning, Sue takes her critiques as insults and retreats into her shell – a common dynamic that is expressed beautifully in this story through a mixture of emotion and anecdote. I feel like I got a lot of meaning from this book just based on this relationship.

I really loved Shoko's flashbacks to growing up in World War II Japan. This is not a setting that I know much about, and it had actually never occurred to me what happened to the average young girl like Shoko at the end of the war. Shoko's struggles to find a successful life really touched me and I especially appreciated the story of her lost love, Ronin.

I was also very intrigued by Sue's character, a young single mother, stuck in a career she hates. Sue's lack of guidance really struck me, as I often feel similarly lost in life, and I found her personal journey to change and self-discovery very inspiring.

The Lows: I would have appreciated more suspense in the plot. Shoko reveals the novel's "shocking twist" quite early on in the story and that drains most of the interest out of the story right there. While it's still a lovely book, there's nothing much else to force you to continue flipping the page.

I also would have appreciated more depth to Shoko's relationship with Ronin. It didn't seem like her feelings were deep enough for him to inspire her to risk her family's reputation. Another character where more development would have been appreciated is Shoko's mother. Perhaps there would be more insight to Shoko and her parenting techniques if the novel explored more about Shoko's relationship with her own mother.

Final Thoughts: While this book was enjoyable, the lack of suspense made it feel dry at times.

Rating: How to Be an American Housewife earns five paper cranes out of ten. 

Buy it on Amazon here
Connect with author Margaret Dilloway here
Photo from We Heart It

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