How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

Margaret Dilloway‘s How to Be an American Housewife is reminiscent of Amy Tan and Lisa See’s fiction in that the main characters are of Asian descent and struggle with cultural differences and generational gaps that hamper their ability to relate with one another smoothly.

“After the first hour watching scratchy TV in the blood lab, I wished I had a book with me.  Charlie and I weren’t big readers.  Books were too expensive and library books were full of germs from all the people who had checked them out.”  (page 123 of ARC)

Shoko is a Japanese woman who marries an American soldier, Charlie, shortly after the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  She tells her story of how she moved from a happy childhood to a tumultuous adolescence at a time when her nation was occupied by a foreign invader and her family had lost its position in the caste society.  She’s an independent woman still beholden to Japanese traditions, though she takes time out to find true love.

“I understood then that my skills in school or in sports would not make my life come about in the way I wished.  I took my bows at that recital, vowing I would learn what I needed and make the best marriage possible.”  (page 6 of ARC)

Her trip down memory lane, unfortunately, is a bit stilted with little emotion, which could make it harder for readers to connect with Shoko.  However, once readers are engaged with Shoko’s struggles as an American housewife as she adapts to different cultural norms and strives to raise her children properly.  Mike and Suiko, her children, are as different as night and day, with Mike floating through life and Suiko taking her responsibilities to heart even to the detriment of her own dreams.  Shoko’s relationship with her children is strained, but she must soon learn to rely on them when she tries to reunite with her estranged brother, Taro.

Dilloway’s novel is captivating as Shoko continues to tell her story and when her daughter, Sue takes over the narration when she heads to Japan to learn about her family’s past and reconcile her family after many decades of silence.  As a debut, it is solid in drawing dynamic characters and creating fun dialogue between Shoko and Charlie and between Sue and Helena, Shoko’s granddaughter.  Three generations populate these pages, but really How to Be an American Housewife is a story about the strong, independent women in this family.

About the Author:

Margaret Dilloway was inspired by her Japanese mother’s experiences when she wrote this novel, and especially by a book her father had given to her mother called The American Way of Housekeeping. She lives in Hawaii with her husband and three young children.

Please follow her on Twitter, check out her blog, and view the reading group guide for her debut novel.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours, Penguin, and Margaret Dilloway for sending me a copy of How to Be an American Housewife for review.

This is my 40th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.


  1. I was a big fan of Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and I always enjoyed Amy Tan’s books … this sounds like it has the same themes so I think I’ll add it to my (way too long) list.

  2. Dawn - She Is Too Fond of Books says

    Interesting that one child has the very American name Mike, while the daughter’s name reflects her mother’s heritage. It sounds like their personalities follow this lead.

    Thanks for the review, Serena … I’m interested to learn more about the strong women (always a good theme)

    • Mike could have had a Japanese name, but I’m not sure. They did refer to Suiko in the book as Sue most of the time.

  3. Great review Serena. I really enjoyed this one! I thought the use of the “imagined” book for housewives was really creative.

  4. Laura @ ImBookingIt says

    I’m so jealous of all of you on this tour– every time I run into a review, I think how much I’ll like it.

  5. Thanks for the review! I hope everyone enjoys reading it.

  6. I think this books sounds great! Your review has me so excited to get my hands on a copy!

  7. I’ve got to get my hands on a copy of this book! Wonderful review.

  8. This books sounds really good – I’m a fan of Lisa See’s and Amy Tan’s so I think I’d like this one. Great review!

  9. Though they sound very different, some things about this book remind me of Girl in Translation. Have you read that one? If you haven’t, I think you might like it.

  10. I really liked the strong female characters in this book.

  11. BibliophileBytheSea says

    This one sounds very good; hope to get it someday. Have a great week Serena

  12. Beth Hoffman says

    Terrific review! I don’t recall hearing about this book before and I’ll keep it in mind for my TBR list.

  13. I’m glad you enjoyed the book! I’ve seen this book everywhere on the blogosphere and it seems like everyone likes it so far. I’m definitely adding this one to my wishlist! thanks for the review/rec.

  14. I’ve seen so many good reviews of this! It seems like I’m going to have to read it!

  15. I love the sound of this one and am always drawn to strong women characters!

  16. Glad you liked this book. I loved it!


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