Before she met her husband, Tracy Slater was “fiercely independent,” she says, an academic teaching literature and gender studies at Boston University’s College Behind Bars program. Then a Japanese businessman getting an executive MBA in Boston entered her life, she said, “and I just fell madly in love with him.”
When her future husband had to return to Osaka to care for his father in the wake of his mother’s sudden death, Slater found herself following him there. They married, and she became, suddenly, a shufu. The word means “housewife” in Japanese, but it doesn’t share the connotations most Americans bring to the word here. “It’s much more common in Japan,” Slater said, “that when a woman marries she quits her job, even if she doesn’t have kids.”
In “The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self, and Home on the Far Side of the World,” Slater writes of her cultural dislocation in this new country and new role, but also of the joy it brought her.
“I worked really hard to plan this kind of life I thought would be my perfect life, and it got completely upended when I fell in love with this person,” she said. She added, “The most rewarding thing is realizing I feel more grounded, more in the right place, than I ever have in my life. The journey that I least expected took me to exactly the right place.”
One place it took her was to motherhood, as parent to a half-Japanese daughter. “She is part of my body,” Slater said, “and yet she is also an integral part of a culture that will, always and forever, see me as a foreigner.” As for her role as shufu, she said, “The title is ironic. I’m not a good shufu. I’m the worst housekeeper in the world.”
Slater will read Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Newtonville Books.
Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.