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….Goodreads Summary
Sometimes it takes me a bit to catch up with what everyone else is reading. I didn’t read Fault in Our Stars until a few years ago, long after the internet had wept and wailed for the death of their favorite characters. Luckily I’m only 7 years behind this one, so I count that as fair. Once I started it, I was hooked. It took me a bit to get through it, I have the Ebook version and I was reading it at work.
I really liked this book and the different point of view than the usual war story of the time made for a great change. Usually we get a view of the Japanese being taken to internment or the scared White guy whose world has been turned upside down. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is what one would call a family story and even a love story. Though it falls into the genre of historical fiction, I feel that it would fit better with the coming-of-age genre. I never really thought about the fact that the Chinese of an area would be reacted against in the same way the Japanese were. Having never faced much prejudice as someone of Irish and English descent, it is still surprising to me to realize that two cultures that are so different (the Japanese and the Chinese) might have to not only verbally but visually make it obvious that they weren’t each other.
The writing style was very clear, even as it went back and forth between two different time periods. Drawn in from the beginning, I began to worry that I wouldn’t get the ending I wanted as the amount of pages grew smaller and smaller. I had already checked to see if there was a sequel and was surprised that a book this well written was a debut novel. After harassing the author on twitter and begging for my ending, I reached the end. Beautifully written and perfectly ended, the best way to describe this book.
It’s not a dark and heavy tale, though the subject matter is quite serious. Some have called it too sweet and artificial in its development of characters and relationships. The story is from Henry’s point of view. To many of us growing up our parents can seem very one dimensional and I think the way Henry talks about his father is very much in the manner of a real boy describing his home life. It’s a family story and a love story. Unlike the real world, where all too often we can act too late or not at all, this story rounded out and wrapped up a perfect story. We don’t all get our perfect endings in life, so it’s nice to be able to have that in books.
I would recommend this to someone who needs something happy and sweet to read. The historical fiction portion is there and is very sharp in its facts, but the more prevalent theme has to be the relationship between fathers and sons, not only between Henry and his father, but also Henry and his son. Buy it, borrow it, sit in the store and read it on the floor, just read it and enjoy.
Jamie Ford has this listed on his website about him: My name is James. Yes, I'm a dude. I’m also the New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet—which was, in no particular order, an IndieBound NEXT List Selection, a Borders Original Voices Selection, a Barnes & Noble Book Club Selection, Pennie’s Pick at Costco, a Target Bookmarked Club Pick, and a National Bestseller. It was also named the #1 Book Club Pick for Fall 2009/Winter 2010 by the American Booksellers Association. In addition, Hotel has been translated into 34 languages. I’m still holding out for Klingon (that’s when you know you’ve made it). My new novel, Songs of Willow Frost was published September 10, 2013. And I'm also working on a YA (Young Adult) series that even my agent doesn't know about...yet. On the personal side, I'm the proud father of more teenagers than I can keep track of. Yep, it's chaos, but the good kind of chaos.
Freelance Editor & Reviewer