Monday, April 18, 2011

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

On my way home from my sister's, I started listening to Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I didn't know what expect, as one friend loved the story and another friend didn't get far in because she was I wasn't sure if I was gonna like it or not.

The story starts in 1986 in Seattle, when the Panama Hotel is renovated and the belongings of some 30 Japanese families are found in the basement. Presumably from when the Japanese were gathered up during WWII. The story goes between 1986 and 1941-1949 with the lead character, Henry, a Chinese American boy, telling the story.

The story is beautiful. The imagery is so brilliantly done, I had no problem picturing Seattle during the 1940's. I was almost sad to see it come to an end, because I had been able to escape into a completely different world.

I highly recommend the book, either in audio or written form. In fact, I am seriously thinking of buying it in hard copy so I can have it for my collection. I know it will be a story I will want to visit again.

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.

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