Books set in Asia, Dilloway-Margaret, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romantic Fiction, Social Commentary, WWII

#609 How to be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

How to be an American Housewife by Margaret DillowayHow to be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

Shoko left Japan just after WWII and married an American soldier. Her new life in the United States was different from her life in Japan. She used a guidebook during her time in America. This guidebook was called How to be an American Housewife. It helped her to ease her transition into American life. Shoko was never entirely accepted, but things got better as the years went on.

Shoko tells her own story. She was pretty, but her family had become poor. She went to work for the Americans in order to snag an American husband. She dated many men, including an Eta man, Eta being the untouchable caste in Japan pre-WWII. Ultimately, she married Charlie and left her home in Japan.

She ended up with two children, Mike and Suiko. The children were many years apart. Mike was born after Shoko was first married, but it turns out his paternity isn’t what anybody expected. Suiko was both obedient and disobedient. When her mother comes to her and tells her of her heart troubles and that she needs her to go to Japan, Suiko agrees. She takes her daughter, Helena, and goes to Japan to find Shoko’s brother Taro, who has not spoken to Shoko in many years. She wants to make up for their disagreement from years before, caused largely by Taro if everyone is honest, but Shoko wants peace in case she dies from her heart troubles.

What I liked

I tend to like book about Japan and this book was no exception. I lived in Okinawa for three years and I quite enjoyed the experience and I love reading about the rest of Japan. This book was a quick read, despite being over three-hundred pages long. I have to hand it to Margaret for writing something that was so easy to read.

I liked that Margaret included some reference to radiation in this story. Even though Shoko wasn’t close to the blast site, she still received radiation from the blast because radiation travels. She was still damaged by it, as far away as she was. This is something important to remember. Radiation is no joke. Just because it’s been years since Chernobyl or Fukushima doesn’t mean that those areas are safe to be in. There is still radiation in the area and it can travel and it’s a good idea to take precautions if traveling in a near vicinity of either. As far away as I was from Fukushima when the tsunami/earthquake hit, I still took some precautions when traveling through Tokyo a couple of months later. The fact of the matter is that we don’t know how people will be affected from something like Fukushima, just as nobody knew what the long-term affects of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were.

Shoko probably had no idea, for years, that her heart was weakened from the radiation she received during WWII.

I liked that Margaret was writing something semi-autobiographical, as far as her family was concerned. Her mother had been a WWII Japanese bride and some of the things in this book were probably almost exactly things that had actually happened to her mother, situations, misjudgements, attitudes, and so forth.

What I didn’t like

You know what I don’t like? Authors who don’t do their research before writing something, that’s what I don’t like.

There are two things that stood out to me and one I can let go depending upon the circumstances.

The first thing is that the book states that Suiko arrives at Tokyo International Airport. Maybe back in the day there was a Tokyo International Airport, maybe one of the airports there is still called that, but not to my knowledge. The airports in Tokyo are Narita and Haneda. This may have not always been the case though and maybe Narita or Haneda used to be called Tokyo International Airport, maybe one of them still is, like I said, but everybody that I knew in Japan called them Narita or Haneda.

Second thing, Charlie, Shoko’s husband, is a Mormon. This is fine and there is nothing wrong with that, but the book states that Charlie believes that Shoko’s soul will go to purgatory if she is not baptized before she dies. Purgatory is not a Mormon concept. It’s a Catholic concept. It has nothing to do with Mormonism. This wouldn’t have been that difficult to research.

I can almost guarantee you, that Charlie and Shoko would have been raising their kids in Mormonism as well. Mormons, most of them, have quite the stubborn streak and Charlie wouldn’t have given up so easy about raising his children in the church.


This book is an enjoyable read.

Weigh In

If you had to go from your culture to another culture, how difficult do you think it would be for you to adapt?

Is it always good to embrace your culture?


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