Saturday, October 6, 2012

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

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.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel's dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family's belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice - words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.

Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

This book was a very interesting read, and by interesting I mean it was pretty good. It was truly a bitter sweet read, and that seriously is the only way I can describe it. You get sucked into Henry's world both in the late 1980's and in the mid-1940's, during WWII after the Pearl Harbor bombing. Even though he's Chinese he's still treated poorly by most everyone. He was allowed to be on a scholarship at an all white elementary school, though his scholarship meant they just put him to work. Luckily that is where he meets Keiko and how the story takes off.

This book is yet another book that I have read that goes back and forth in time. Unlike Sarah's Key, this book sticks with one character. It's heartbreaking to go back and forth because both have suffered so much. The younger boy is the one that was best friends with Keiko, a Japanese American that got taken into their internment camps during the war because America saw them as a threat. These two are torn apart yet drawn closer, which in turn tears Henry's family apart. This was the most heartbreaking part to me.

Though Henry was trying to prove that it was ok and that he could be friends with a Japanese American girl, and even maybe love her, his father did not approve and did terrible things to him because of it. I'm not saying he violated his son or beat his son. Not once was there any abuse physically, but I think emotionally maybe just a little bit. It was hard to see such a broken father-son relationship and to see how just that relationship made Henry's own relationship with his own son different. Because of the lack of communication with his own father, Henry hardly ever talked to his own son and it left a void between them. 

This book does end happily. I kind of figured how it ended about 15 pages in, but how it got there I was not sure. I cannot say this book was super predictable. There were a few issues with being accurate time-frame wise. I just feel like they did not have online support groups in 1986. How historically accurate the 1940's chapters were I am not sure. I have honestly not heard a lot about the roundup of the Japanese. I have only heard that it happened and that it was not the same as when Hitler rounded up the Jews. This could be a completely accurate picture, or it could be completely inaccurate. I still feel that Jamie Ford did a great job on writing about it, and I really think this book was a great read by him.

This book really was bittersweet, which sounds cheesy. Your emotions while reading go from completely sadness to happiness to realizing that everything that happened needed to happen no matter the outcome. It was a really great read and I highly recommend it to anyone that would love to give it a try. 

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