By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
“How to Be an American Housewife”
By Margaret Dilloway
Berkley Books, 2010
Growing up, Shoko was very close with her brother Taro. But when she got older and decided to marry an American GI and leave Japan after the end of World War II, Taro was not happy about it — among other things.
After half a century with an ocean between them, Shoko plans to return to Japan and reconcile with Taro.
But a chronic heart condition (most likely caused by radiation from the atomic bombs dropped by Americans) prevents her from traveling, so she asks her daughter Sue to go in her place. So Sue and her teenage daughter Helena travel to Japan to connect with a branch of their family they’ve never met.
During their trip, the mother-daughter duo meets a number of extended relatives in addition to Taro. And through these meetings, they learn more about Shoko and her life in Japan.
What I liked about “Housewife” is the balance between the past and present.
A big part of the story – the title refers to a book Shoko receives from her American husband Charlie when they marry – is about Shoko adjusting to American life and being a military wife and raising her two children. I really enjoyed how despite all of the obstacles she faces, from physical limitations to language barriers, Shoko remains strong. She does her best to keep her household running as smoothly as possible. And even though she is in a new country, Shoko does her best to keep parts of her Japanese identity alive, such as her religion.
“Housewife” alternates between Shoko and Sue’s perspectives, and unlike many books featuring an Asian mother with an American-born daughter, it doesn’t dwell on their relationship. There is much more happening in their lives.
However, this is not to say the relationship doesn’t play a big part in the book. Dilloway highlights moments of misunderstanding, showing the situation from both perspectives, and she shows tender moments between the mother and daughter as they have heart-to-heart conversations that could have turned out cheesy, but feel very real and relatable.
“Tashi and the Tibetan Flower Cure”
By Naomi C. Rose
Lee & Low Books, 2011
Tashi loves spending time with her grandfather, Popola. She loves listening to him sing, chant, and tell her stories.
But when he gets sick, Tashi begins to worry as Popola spends most of his time in bed or being taken to the doctor. Then Tashi remembers Popola’s story about how the people in his Tibetan village used flowers to help themselves recover from illnesses.
So Tashi sets out to recruit family, friends, and neighbors to collect flowers in hopes of helping her grandfather.
What I enjoyed about this story was how committed Tashi was to helping her grandfather. They may not be in Tibet, but that doesn’t stop the little girl from her mission. Her determination is nothing short of amazing and admirable. It’s obvious she loves Popola.
I also thought it was great how Popola couldn’t go to Tibet, so Tashi brought Tibet to him with her floral endeavor. I haven’t really been exposed to Tibetan culture and I’m not sure how successful the floral therapy would be in real life, but reading this story has piqued my curiosity.
And I’m sure young readers will feel the same, since Tibetan culture is not very mainstream and harbors a lot of unknowns for the general population.
And it was also great to see how the whole community got involved in the flower project. I thought this was important to include and show kids because in a world that’s becoming more digital, we often forget the importance of interacting with people in person and engaging in our community. This story does a great job of showing this.
“Miss New India”
By Bharati Mukherjee
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
At 19, Anjali Bose’s future is looking a little bleak.
She’s finishing up school and coming from a lower- and middle-class family living in a small Indian town. It looks like she has an arranged marriage on her horizon.
But independent and rebellious, Anjali has other things in mind. She doesn’t see why she needs a husband and does not have much faith in her father’s judgment since the “nice boy” he chose for her sister was not as nice as they thought and the marriage ended in divorce.
After a chance encounter with Peter Champion, her old expat teacher, Anjali begins to consider moving to Bangalore, the country’s fastest growing metropolis. And when the arranged match her parents set up goes wrong, she sets off to the big city – with Peter’s help.
When she arrives, Anjali falls in with a crowd of ambitious young people who have learned English from American sitcoms like “Seinfeld” to get call center jobs and out earn their parents.
All of her new experiences and newly found freedom in “New India” give Anjali the chance to take a look at herself and figure out who she really is and what she wants in life. However, as bright and shiny the New India may seem, Anjal learns that just as nice boys aren’t always so, not everything is as it seems. Everything has its dark side.
What I really liked about “Miss New India” was how Anjali doesn’t heavily rely on others to help her. She’s smart and cunning and uses her brain.
I also liked Mukherjee’s portrayal of India as it enters modern times. While tradition, gender roles, and the caste system still play roles in society, she shows that sometimes, it’s okay to take a step away and start your own path. (end)
Samantha Pak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.