Book of the week–His Wife and Daughters

This week I fired up my Kindle and read Wendy Nelson Tokunaga‘s page-clicking novel, His Wife and Daughters.

Although the story revolves around the family of a California congressman who is involved in a 1980s sex scandal, it’s so much more than a scandal. As a result, this novel has caused me to look at the real scandals in a more human light, not as a CNN circus sideshow.

Dan Brath and his wife, Trina, have two teenage daughters when the congressman’s scandal breaks out. Jill is seventeen and Phoebe just thirteen. Trina deals with her husband’s infidelities in a few ways–some helpful, some not–and shows how a woman in her situation can still lead a dignified life, even if it takes years to get there.

Decades later Jill is a divorced realtor. Although the story is ultimately sad, I found myself laughing out loud when Jill is convinced her ex-husband is about to ask her back or when she spills coffee all over herself in a public spectacle at a cafe. She’s so human and sympathetic.

Phoebe, on the other hand, is a lost soul who feels betrayed by her family and cuts off all contact with them. She finds herself in Tokyo fulfilling the same role as her father’s teenage mistress all those years ago.

I love the San Francisco setting, especially Potrero Hill, which was the closest nice neighborhood to where I lived for a couple years in the 1990s. But I had no clue about San Francisco’s stairway streets. They’re definitely something to check out on my next visit. One could even do a walking tour of many of the places in this book–and see a side of San Francisco off the tourist path.

If I could change one thing about this book, I’d add a disclaimer at the beginning warning readers not to start this book on an empty stomach. The food descriptions are just too delicious to read when you’re hungry!


  1. says

    Armistead Maupin’s “Tales Of The City” series used the layout and landscape of San Francisco brilliantly to add a great depth to the story, so maybe I should have a look at this book.

    Food descriptions, done well, can almost be as satisfying as the real thing… almost. Some authors have driven me wild to try new dishes – like Arnold Zable and his pieces on Middle Eastern cuisine. Even if they’re not the sole focus of the work, they really add… er… flavour to the story.

    • Susan Blumberg-Kason says

      Thanks for your comment! I’ve read and enjoyed the first “Tales of the City” long ago. I was living in San Francisco then. In His Wife and Daughters, the author writes about these streets accessed only by stairs, not a street open to traffic. Apparently there are dozens of these streets! Yes, I agree that excellent food descriptions really add to the stories!!

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