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.
This is a good book, full of interesting insights of the complicated issues surrounding family. One thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that there is no such thing as a perfect family. I used to watch families at church or at the park and wish mine could be like other families, but every family has their own struggles and trials that we can’t necessarily see.
This book is about Shoko’s family–her parents and siblings, as well as her family she creates with her husband. Shoko marries an American in hopes of a better life, but finds adjusting to our culture and ways difficult. It is hard for her to fit in as a wife and mother, especially right after the war, but she makes the best of life that she can. She has a handbook–How to be an American Housewife that helps teach her our ways and gives recipes for the food we eat. Excerpts from this handbook are included in the book, and some are quite hilarious. As she grows older, she desperately wants to return to Japan to make amends with her estranged brother who is angry with her for marrying an American. She convinces her daughter Sue to go in her place when Shoko learns she needs to have heart surgery.
The second half of the book is written from Sue’s point of view. It was interesting to see her side of life with her mother, and it presented new details of Shoko’s life. Sue decides to take the trip to Japan with her daughter, and seeing the country and meeting new family members adds meaning to their lives. The trip changes Sue. It gives her new confidence and courage to make a big change in her life. The trip also enables her to see her mother in a new light, and brings the two of them closer.
It was interesting to read of Shoko’s life in Japan before world war II, and seeing how the war affected not only her way of life, but her choices as well. I enjoyed reading of the culture and life of the Japanese people–the language, the food, their customs, and their country. It’s definitely a place I’d love to visit someday. This would be a fun book to read for a book group–it definitely has a lot of different layers that would make a great discussion!