Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (2009)

This book was recommended to me by my mom, who found it in her library, and luckily, I found a copy in mine, as well.

The author of this book, Jamie Ford, whose great grandfather immigrated from China to Nevada in 1865, has written a fascinating and moving novel about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. But this is also a coming-of-age novel, a family chronicle, and a love story.

The story takes place in Seattle and bouces back and forth between 1942 and 1986.

Henry Lee, a 12-year-old Chinese-American, lives in Seattle in 1942 and is the only Asian child in his school, where he is constantly bullied. One day, a Japanese girl arrives and is put to work with him in the school cafeteria. Henry has learned from his father to hate the Japanese, but he soon forms a strong friendship with Keiko. As the war heats up, Japanese citizens of Seattle begin to be targeted and disappear, and then internment of all Japanese begins on a large scale. Henry does his best to help Keiko and her family as they are shipped out to a camp, but they lose touch, and Henry eventually moves on with his life, making peace with his father and repairing their difficult relationship as well.

Later, in 1986, having lost his wife to cancer, Henry by chance sees a hotel in the old part of Japanese town where belongings of Japanese people who had to leave the city have been kept for all these years. A flood of memories comes back and before he knows it, Henry is searching for Keiko.

I found this novel to be extremely interesting from a historical perspective - I really knew next to nothing about the Japanese internments during World War II, and I learned a lot from this book. The author also paints a vivid picture of what life was like in the international part of the city of Seattle in the 1940's - including the racial discrimination between different nationalities, the way of life at that time and the local jazz club scene! I definitely could tell the author knows Seattle inside and out.

The love story between Henry and Keiko was bittersweet and a bit syrupy at times, but that did not detract from my enjoyment of the novel. I really enjoyed the well written side characters, such as Henry's friend the sax player and his son and son's girlfriend, and especially the tough lunch room lady who ends up being quite a help.


Kathy said...

Have you ever read Snow Falling on Cedars? Sounds like the two books have several similarities.

Nikola said...

I've heard of these historical events - the segregation of the Japanese in America, but it is always sad to read about it. I will definitely look for this book. :)

Amy said...

I haven't read Snow Falling on Cedars - I will look to see if my library has it.