Tuesday, September 18, 2012

2012 Book 22: How to Be an American Housewife


How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway is a novel about a Japanese woman, Shoko, who chooses to marry an American GI shortly after WWII in an attempt to better her life. She was from a small village close to Nagasaki and heart problems plague her throughout her life, presumably from the effects of radiation. Shoko receivers her parent's blessing for her marriage, but her brother considers her decision to be unforgivable.

The book is separated into three parts. The first part is Shoko's story. The second part is from her daughter's perspective. The final part brings the women together, melding both of their stories together.

It was an interesting perspective of culture. Each chapter begins with an excerpt from a fictional novel written for Japanese women on how to be American housewives.
Example: Once you leave Japan, it is extremely unlikely that you will return, unless your husband is stationed there again or becomes wealthy. Take a few reminders of Japan with you, if you have room. Or make arrangements to write to a caring relative who is willing to send you letters or items from your homeland. This can ease homesickness. And be sure to tell your family, "Sayonara."
The cultural aspects of the book are both intriguing and sad. Shoko basically had to pretend to forget her culture and raise her children in the American way. All the while, she would remain an outcast for the duration of her life for not being an American woman. On top of this, she harbored a dark secret for the majority of her life. A secret, that she is finally able to release herself from before she undergoes heart surgery...

This was not my favorite work of fiction, but I found it interesting nonetheless.

Excerpts from the book:
My own mother had taught me how to cook by observation. No formal measurements. Learning how to cook was like learning a language. You picked it up...

"You could be the smartest woman in the world, but you're still a woman. A poor Japanese woman from a country that has lost a war... The best you could hope for is to go to college, pretend your high-class, and marry a diplomat."

Japan wasn't democratic like America. Who you were descended from counted for more than what you made of yourself...

For the first years of my marriage, it {the book fictional novel, How to be an American Housewife} had been my handbook, my guide to doing everything. Rules for living, American style. Sometimes it was right, and sometimes it was not. Sometimes I liked it, and sometimes I didn't. But that was just like life. You don't always get to do what you want, do you?

Nothing could have been different in the circumstances I was in. The person I used to be could have made only one choice; the grown-up Shoko might have made a different one. That was how life was. You only figured out the right thing after you were old.

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