I have had the opportunity to read a few good books lately, mostly in the middle of the night. Surprisingly, the late-night timing has actually improved the quality of the reading, since it has to be a pretty good read to keep my attention when I'm that tired. The first one I read when I came home from the hospital was one I'd picked up for $3 at a recent Barnes and Noble sale: How to Be an American Housewife.
The book is written from two points of view: Shoko, an elderly Japanese-American woman, who married an ex-GI after WWII and moved to California, and her daughter Sue, who is struggling with her identity and career path. Shoko has a bad heart, a possible after-effect of the Nagasaki atomic bombing, and it is expected that she won't live through her next surgery. She feels strongly that she wants to go back to Japan and reconcile with her brother Taro, who she hasn't seen or spoken to for decades, before she dies. Taro has never forgiven her for marrying an American, or for her previous affair with an Untouchable. But Shoko's doctors and her husband Charlie tell her she cannot possibly travel that far. Instead, she sends her daughter Sue and granddaughter Helena to Japan as emissaries to her family there. Sue's journey provides her with the sense of family and culture that she has always wished for, and brings healing to Taro and Shoko.
The "How to be an American Housewife" part comes in at the start of each chapter, with little excerpts from a fictional book of that title that supposedly helped Shoko assimilate into American culture (though after 40 years, she still speaks with very broken English and doesn't have any American friends). Those excerpts symbolize my favorite part of the book: the contrast between the American and Japanese cultures. For people who love reading about different cultures, this book provides a comfort zone. It's more accessible (though not as well-written) than Memoirs of a Geisha, my favorite book about Japan.
Give this one a try if you're interested in cross-culture domesticity and deeply-rooted family dynamics.
It's September 27th! What does that mean? It means I just downloaded J.K. Rowling's first adult novel onto my Kindle. Expect a review in the next few days!