Friday, July 8, 2011
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
As Henry Lee is grieving over his wife death from cancer and worrying about the relationship he has with his son the news of a historic discovery reminds him of his childhood. The belongings of Japanese- American families forced to evacuate during WWII are discovered in the basement of the historic Panama hotel in the international district in Seattle. Henry grew up in the area and recalls the prejudice he suffered as a Chinese-American going to a white school. He also remembers the Japanese-American girl he met there and formed a special bond with during that tumultuous time.
I have been interested in reading this novel since it won the Whitney Award in 2009, but didn’t get around to it until my church selected it for book club last month. I had to leave for a family reunion before the book club meeting, but I enjoyed the book despite not being able to discuss it with people. One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the setting. I felt like I was wandering the streets of Seattle with the little boy Henry as he suffered the loneliness of trying to fit into two different worlds. I think the author portrayed his struggle to identify himself as either American or Chinese when he was such a mix of both that he wasn’t fully one or the other.
The highlight of the story for me was the love story between Keiko a Japanese American girl that suffers the same identity crisis, but has to suffer through the prejudice that was leveled against the Japanese in America after Pearl Harbor. I felt that their love story tempered the harsh plot events in the story. It was uplifting to watch these two transcend the cultural boundaries of their countries and form a friendship that helped them both weather the tough times.
Then just as Henry and Keiko are discovering the truth of their feelings for one another Keiko is forced to relocate to an internment camp for Japanese Americans with her family. This is a well-told tragic love story that ends on a hopeful note.
So I really enjoyed this book a lot. There were wonderful characters, a great setting, and a story layered with diverse and interesting conflicts. I recommend that if you are into historical novels that you go forth and read it.
Author Jamie Ford website