Title: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Author: Jamie Ford
Date Finished: 11 March 2009
My Rating: 4
Challenges: Pub, WWII, New Author, Library, 100+
I really wanted to rate this book a 5 and if I gave half ratings I suppose I'd give it 4.5. This book just drew me into the setting of Seattle during the 1940s and the internment of American citizens who were of Japanese decent during WWII. This book, in fact, made me cry which is an effect that few books have on me. I tend to be a fairly stoic person and that carries over into my reading but by the time I was finishing this book I was all weepy and glad no one was around to see me working my way through a box of tissues.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet tells the story of Henry Lee through transitions in time between the 1940s and 1986 in Seattle. Henry is the son of a Chinese nationalist obsessed with the war between China and Japan. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor Henry's father decides that his son needs to become more American and will no longer allow Henry to speak any language but English at home even though it breaks down the communication between Henry and his Cantonese speaking parents. Henry is also sent to the exclusive Rainer Elementary where he is the only Asian student and is ruthlessly bullied by the other students. Henry's one friend is Sheldon, a young black jazz musician who plays a saxophone on the street corner.
Amongst the confusion of war and prejudice, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a new Japanese American Student at Rainer. Always fearful of his father's reaction Henry forges a strong bond of friendship with Keiko. As more Japanese people are arrested and rounded up in raids, Henry fears for what will happen to Keiko and her family. When the order for the removal of all Japanese people in Seattle comes down Henry is torn trying to do what is right while struggling to understand what the right thing is. Should he be loyal to his Chinese nationalist family or should he follow his feelings and help Keiko?
The other side of the story takes place in 1986 as Henry, now a widower, is trying to bridge the gap in his relationship with his son and between his past and present life.
This is Jamie Ford's debut novel and while I really enjoyed it, there were some inconsistencies and a bit of redundancy. The use of the Internet in 1986 had me a bit puzzled. Yes, the Internet existed at the time but was not really being used in the ways described in the book.
Perhaps a little heavy on the sentimental side at times, I really enjoyed this thoughtful look at the tragic events surrounding the treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII and the glimpse into the Japanese internment camps.