Ballantine Books, trade pb, 293 p.
From the back cover:Growing up I’d never really heard about the internment of Japanese during World War II, although since my mother was Ukrainian Canadian I had heard about the internment of Ukrainians in Canada during World War I. Sadly, the internment of Japanese was simply history repeating itself! I still haven’t read a whole lot about the Japanese internment but I have read a small handful of titles: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston, and Obasan and Itsuka by Joy Kogawa, about the Japanese internment in Canada. However, each of these books, whether fiction or memoir, were written from the persepective of Japanese first or second-generation citizens. In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet we see the internment instead through the eyes of a young Chinese American boy. I thought Jamie Ford did a wonderful job presenting the various prejudices and discriminations of the time, towards not only the Japanese, but also the other Asians in America, and the blacks, and amongst themselves, yet all without laying blame. It was a nice portrait of what life was like then.
In 1986, Henry Lee joins a crowd outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has discovered the belongings of Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during World War II. As the owner displays and unfurls a Japanese parasol, Henry, a Chinese American, remembers a young Japanese American girl from his childhood in the 1940s – Keiko Okabe, with whom he forged a bond of friendship and innocent love that transcended the prejudices of their Old World ancestors. After Keiko and her family were evacuated to the internment camps, she and Henry could only hope that their promise to each other would be kept. Now, forty years later, Henry explores the hotel’s basement for the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot even begin to measure. His search will take him on a journey to revisit the sacrifices he has made for family, for love, for country.
The book is so much more than this particular moment in history though. The real story at the heart of the book is one of love. The innocence of young love. The conflicted relationship between fathers and sons. Family loyalty. It’s also about loss, and identity, and acceptance. Vividly told, all of the characters came beautifully to life. I especially became quite fond of some of the minor characters, like Sheldon the jazz musician, and Mrs. Beatty, the lunch lady. I did have some trouble accepting the depth of the relationship between the two main characters though, the young Henry and Keiko. I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “they’re only 12 years old!” But despite that reservation, I came to care about them and by the end of the book I truly believed in their story. One thing I wondered about is whether Henry ever figured out that お会いできて嬉しいです (oai deki te ureshii desu) simply means “It’s an honor to meet you”, rather than the ‘How are you today, beautiful” that Sheldon told him it meant.
I’d wanted to read this ever since I first heard about it, and I’m so glad to finally have had a chance to do so. Best of all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read that lived up to my expectations. A little bit sweet, and a little bitter, just the way a love story should be. Sure it was fairly predictable, and I’ve sometimes quite disliked a similar type of love story, but in my opinion Ford never crossed the line to saccharine. Jamie’s next book apparently also has a Japanese story line and I’m already looking forward to it.
Henry squinted, allowing his senses to adjust to the daylight and the cold, gray Seattle sky that filled the paned windows of the Panama Hotel lobby. Everything, it seemed – the city, the sky – was brighter and more vivid than before. So modern, compared with the time capsule downstairs. As he left the hotel, Henry looked west to where the sun was setting, burnt sienna flooding the horizon. It reminded him that time was short, but that beautiful endings could still be found at the end of cold, dreary days. (p. 76-77)Read an excerpt from the book.
For more information visit Jamie Ford's website, or follow @JamieFord on Twitter.
This review is part of the TLC Book Tour.
Thank you to Lisa and Random House for the opportunity to read this book.
For other stops on the tour visit the Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet Blog Tour page.
My Rating: 4/5
(#3 for 2010)
Buy Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet at: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk | BookDepository.co.uk | BookDepository.com
Interviews with the author by:
Diary of an Eccentric
Also reviewed by:
Diary of an Eccentric
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Trish's Reading Nook
You've GOTTA Read This!
The Book Lady’s Blog
Lesley’s Book Nook
Hey Lady! Whatcha readin'?
The Bluestocking Society
In the Shadow of Mt. TBR
Melody’s Reading Corner
Stephanie’s Written Word
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Your reward for reading this far? Random House has also kindly agreed to send a copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet to one of my readers. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post stating that you'd like to be entered, although a relevant comment about the book (or the review) would be appreciated. The giveaway will end next Wednesday, February 3rd, when the winner will be selected randomly. Unfortunately, as the book will be coming directly from the publisher, the giveaway is only open to the US and Canada. My apologies, I know how frustrating it is for international bloggers. But I will be having a giveaway to celebrate my blogiversary soon so you'll get a chance to win a book then.
This giveaway is now closed and the winner has been notified.
The small print: This book was received free of charge from the publisher for review purposes. Links in this post to Amazon (including book cover) or The Book Depository contain my Associates or Affiliates ID respectively. Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission. For more information visit my About Page.