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How to Be an American Housewife Paperback – August 2, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this enchanting first novel, Dilloway mines her own family's history to produce the story of Japanese war bride Shoko, her American daughter, Sue, and their challenging relationship. Following the end of WWII, Japanese shop girl Shoko realizes that her best chance for a future is with an American husband, a decision that causes a decades-long rift with her only brother, Taro. While Shoko blossoms in America with her Mormon husband, GI Charlie Morgan, and their two children, she's constantly reminded that she's an outsider--reinforced by passages from the fictional handbook How to Be an American Housewife. Shoko's attempts to become the perfect American wife hide a secret regarding her son, Mike, and lead her to impossible expectations for Sue. The strained mother-daughter bond begins to shift, however, when a now-grown Sue and her teenage daughter agree to go to Japan in place of Shoko, recently fallen ill, to reunite with Taro. Dilloway splits her narrative gracefully between mother and daughter (giving Shoko the first half, Sue the second), making a beautifully realized whole.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Shoko was a young woman in Japan during WWII. Once her parents realized that Japan was going to be defeated, they encouraged Shoko to marry an American and obtain a better life. She did so at the expense of her relationship with her brother, Taso, who could not forgive her for betraying her country. Jumping ahead many years, it’s clear that Shoko has done what she could to be the best American housewife. She now longs to return to Japan and reunite with Taso, but she is too ill to travel. She enlists the help of her daughter, Sue, whose own failings as a housewife have caused a rift between the women. Despite their strained relationship, Sue makes the trip and discovers another side to her mother, and family secrets that have come between them. Dilloway narrates from both women’s perspectives, sensitively dramatizing the difficulties and struggles Shoko and Sue faced in being Japanese, American, and housewives. --Carolyn Kubisz --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley; Reprint edition (August 2, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0425241297
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425241295
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (142 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #294,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Margaret Dilloway is the award-winning author of SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS and HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE, all published by Putnam Books. The e-Book companion to SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, THE TALE OF THE WARRIOR GEISHA, will publish in fall 2015.

In addition, the first book of Dilloway's children book series, XANDER AND THE LOST ISLAND OF MONSTERS, will be published by Disney-Hyperion in 2016.

THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS was the American Library Association's 2013 Literary Tastes Pick for Women's Fiction and the Pulpwood Queen's International Book Club Pick for Best Book of 2013.

In writing HOUSEWIFE, Margaret was inspired by her Japanese mother's experiences, and especially by a book her father had given to her mother called The American Way of Housekeeping. The book was a finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Book Award.

She lives in San Diego with her husband and three children and Gatsby the Goldendoodle, who looks like a giant teddy bear. Her blog, "American Housewife," can be found on her website,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Megan VINE VOICE on August 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I started Margaret Dilloway's HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE just before bed last week, distracted by my busy day and unable to calm my mind enough to sleep. From the opening sentence, I was surprised at how quickly I sunk into this beautiful, lyrical story -- and how enchanted with Dilloway's world I became. I didn't put the book down again until 2 a.m. -- and only when my eyes were literally shutting.

In this novel centering around identity, growth, healing and motherhood, our protagonists are Shoko and Suiko, or Sue. The Japanese wife of a former American GI, Shoko has become American through assimilation. She chose to marry Charlie, a shy redheaded military man, and left her native Japan after the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima left her culture, land and family devastated. Sue is Shoko and Charlie's divorced American daughter, a lovely woman with a 12-year-old daughter, Helena, who understands her mother little and their Japanese heritage even less. Now aging and facing serious surgery, Shoko is looking back at the life she left in the Japanese countryside -- and the family that disowned her when she married an American. After her father chose her future husband out of a photo line-up of American suitors, Shoko said goodbye to her native country . . . and hello to a world even more foreign than the frightening one she abandoned. But toward the end of her life, did Shoko make the right choices? Could she have changed things for herself, for Charlie, for their son Mike -- or for Sue?

From the novel's first words to its rapid conclusion, I was enchanted with everything about Dilloway's story. In the cover blurb, author Jamie Ford calls the story "tender and captivating" -- a description I second whole-heartedly.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Terri J. Rice TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Shoko is now an old woman looking back on her life. She wants desperately to return to Japan from America to see her estranged brother, Taro, before her heart condition worsens. Her doctor forbids it and so her daughter goes instead.

At eighteen, at the end of the war, she had to go to work to help her brother through school. Her family, once well off, now wants to see her married to an American, any American. She instead falls for an Eta, the lowest class Japanese, with whom she is forbidden to associate.

She does eventually marry the red haired Charlie and they make their home in California.

The story is charming and the characters are fairly quaint but they lack depth. Their feelings, thoughts, reactions are right there on the surface, simply composed and that's all there is. The writing is simple, too simple. The first chapter or two was fine for this style but as the book continued the characters never developed into living beings, they remained flat.

Margaret Dilloway uses real life events for this story, her own mother was a war bride from Japan eventually developing a failing heart, her father the military man, and Margaret herself the irritated daughter of this out of place mother who found it difficult to relate to her mother's heritage and customs. Dilloway could have taken advantage of all the first hand accounting of this story and really dug deep below the surface of these people but instead her writing is guarded and cautious, barely scratching the surface.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Pippa Lee VINE VOICE on July 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If you have read Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club," then you'll be on familiar territory when you take up Margaret Dilloway's debut novel, "How to Be An American Housewife."

Dilloway's heroine is Shoko Morgan, a Japanese woman who marries a Navy medic not so much for love, but out of duty to her parents and for the opportunity of a new life in America. The story is told by two voices. The first part of the book is narrated by Shoko, old and seriously ill, remembering her childhood and youth in Japan, her estrangement from her brother Taro, and the challenges she faced as a military wife in a biracial marriage and as a mother witnessing the growing emotional and cultural gap between her and her two children, Mike and Sue.

The story then switches to Sue's point of view. Sue, along with her own teen daughter, Helena, embarks on a trip to Japan on Shoko's behalf to find Taro. As Sue travels the country to Shoko's village, she finds herself not only pondering on the mother-daughter bond with both Shoko and Helena, but also on her own cultural identity.

As I read Dilloway's novel, I couldn't help but think about what her book has in common with Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club." The mother-daughter relationship theme is strong in both as it is the immigration and assimilation experience and the tension that belonging to different cultures can cause in an individual. In spite of the similarities, I enjoyed "How to Be An American Housewife." Shoko is not a shrinking wallflower. Instead, she's a beautiful woman who knows she's beautiful and is not afraid to say it. Her defiance may bring admiration from the readers as she incites her children to ignore those kids who make fun of them. But Shoko cannot escape from the traditions instilled by her parents.
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