Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Book: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Author: Jamie Ford

In the opening pages of Jamie Ford's stunning 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 old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry's world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While "scholarshipping" at the exclusive Rainier 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. And 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 is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel's dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family's belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot 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 many years ago.-Goodreads

Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was a wonderful surprise. It's a melancholy tale about Henry Lee, his family and his best friend Keiko. Keiko and her family are Japanese Americans and sent to an internment camp during WWII. Told in different timelines, we follow Henry as a young student in the 1940s and Henry in the mid 80s as he tries to reconnect with his son. The historical aspect of the 1940's sections was very interesting. I was especially heartbroken by the relationship between Henry and his father, a man with extreme hatred toward the Japanese due to his upbringing in China. While the 1980's section wasn't as strong, I enjoyed seeing Henry and his son reconnect. While the book didn't pack as much of an emotional punch as I would have liked, this was a fabulous read. 

Grade: 4/5

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