Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

by Jamie Ford

Overview: "In the opening pages of Jamie Ford's debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol." "This simple act takes Henry back to the 1940s, when his world was a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who was obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While "scholarshipping" at the exclusive Ranier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship - and innocent love - that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. After Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end and that their promise to each other will be kept." Forty years later, Henry Lee, certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko, searches the hotel's dark, dusty basement for signs of the Okabe family's belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot even begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice: words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made manyyears ago.

Debbie Weiss (12/08/15): I really enjoyed reading this book. The story line has already been discussed in the overview and in other reviews below, so I don't really have much to add to explain what the book was about. I think that because I was reading the book at this time --- when zenophobia is rampant in our country --- the book made a big impression on me. Young (Chinese-American) Henry's friend Keiko was a Japanese American, born in the USA. Her parents were very patriotic and loved being part of the American Family. However, WWII was going on and all the Japanese were the enemy, even if the Japanese people happened to be American citizens. Keiko's family was moved to an internment camp along with all the other Japanese families that lived in their neighborhood. Even with this imprisonment, many men in the camp volunteered to fight in the war on the size of the USA to show how much they loved their country. To me this was amazing!

I hear all the talk today regarding Muslims citizens by some of our politicians. I certainly hope that we have learned from our mistakes of the past and do not start discriminating against another segement of our society because of its members' religion.

In addition to the sweet story of Henry and Keiko's young love, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet covered the immigrant experience and the historical saga of a dark period of American history. It really makes the reader think.
Rating: ****

Gail Reid (08/23/11): It's a great title for a bittersweet story of young love between Henry, a young Chinese-American boy and Keiko, a young Japanese-American girl in Seattle during the pre-World War II years. Keiko and her family are sent off to the internment camps. Henry's father harbors hatred for the Japanese and cruelly contributes to the young peoples' separation while alienating Henry, his only child.

The book juxtaposes the young Henry's story with the middle-aged Henry whose wife has died and whose son will soon graduate from college and marry. During the 1980's a Seattle hotel was renovated and numerous belongings from the evacuated Japanese community are discovered. When Henry uncovers Keiko's sketches, the strong feelings that he has always had for Keiko are reignited.

I found that both the story and the writing did not reveal any real originality, although it was certainly a pleasant read. For this era in U.S. history, "Snow Falling on Cedars" was more memorable and had much more of an impact on me.
Rating: ***

Gwendolyn Waring: I read this sweet little book a while ago and I agree it is an easy read, but has great historical context and content. I agree that it is a good read.
Rating: ****

Judy Stanton: In the mood for a sweet, old-fashioned coming of age love story? I thoroughly enjoyed Jamie Ford's novel, getting to know his characters, shifting from the 1940s to the 1980s, and learning about the interrment of the Japanese during WWII as seen through the eyes of those personally touched by it. I found the book very readable and constantly calling me back to see what happens next. Some reviews say this author's debut novel is predictable and his characters too defined by cliche. I thought he touched on many issues of substance-- what does it mean to be an American? how immigrants can feel isolated in this country, but also in their own; parental issues about determining what's best for your children; family obligation/loyalty across the generations. It's a fairly quick read; I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did.
Rating: *****

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