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The Bowl with Gold Seams

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Ellen Prentiss Campbell’s debut novel was inspired by an unusual chapter in the history of the Bedford Springs Hotel in Pennsylvania. During the summer of 1945, the State Department selected the resort to serve as the detainment center for the Japanese ambassador to Berlin, his staff, and their families.

The novel tells Hazel Shaw’s story of unexpected personal transformation — both as a young woman working at the hotel among the Japanese, and the further story of the reverberating lifelong consequences of that experience. The final events of the war challenge Hazel’s beliefs about enemies and friends, victory and defeat, love and loyalty. In the ensuing years she remains haunted by memories. Long after the end of the war, an unexpected encounter causes Hazel to return to the hotel and she must confront her past, come to terms with her present life, and determine her future.

215 pages, Paperback

Published May 1, 2016

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About the author

Ellen Prentiss Campbell

6 books54 followers
Ellen Prentiss Campbell is the author of Frieda's Song: A Novel (Apprentice House, May 2021), the short story collections Known By Heart (Apprentice House, May 2020) and Contents Under Pressure (Broadkill River Press, February 2016), which was nominated for The National Book Award, and the novel The Bowl with Gold Seams (Apprentice House, May 2016) which received the National Indie Excellence Award for Historical Fiction. Her short fiction has been featured in numerous journals including The Massachusetts Review, The Fourth River, The Potomac Review, and The MacGuffin. Her essays and reviews have appeared in The Fiction Writers Review, where she is a contributing editor, and The Washington Independent Review of Books. She lives in Washington, D.C.
For more see www.ellencampbell.net

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5 stars
41 (33%)
4 stars
43 (34%)
3 stars
33 (26%)
2 stars
7 (5%)
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Displaying 1 - 26 of 26 reviews
Profile Image for Laura Reed.
11 reviews8 followers
December 31, 2017
Fantastic book from a fantastic author! I've been reading so many long books lately, that it was so nice to read a book that was a little bit shorter but written with such love and intensity. This 213 page story is a gem!
Profile Image for Andrew.
Author 18 books62 followers
February 19, 2020
This was an interesting story, focusing on a historical event I hadn't heard of before. There's certainly a lot of emotional drama, about the notions of friend vs. enemy, tragedy, and the guilt of keeping secrets and how it affects lives for years afterward. I would've liked to see a little more action as opposed to description, but in the end it does show that even if lives are broken, while they definitely will never be the same and those scars are always there, hope can still come out of it despite the suffering and guilt.
3 reviews
August 2, 2016
Going to Bedford to talk about this book with a few friends from my old book club. Since it was set there in 1945, there are lots of wonderful references.
Profile Image for Michael.
7 reviews4 followers
July 9, 2017
I just finished this wonderful historical novel today. I was at a local park where I usually go to walk and take photos of flowers. I was so absorbed with the last 100 pages that I took only a few photos. I stopped 5 pages from the end because I didn't want to let go of the story and characters! The storyline is rich, filled with characters I developed relationships with. I came to really care about them. The historical nature of the story was accurate and filled with the kind of detail that make historical fiction come alive.

I have recommended this book to a number of friends as I was reading it. One of them finished it before I did!

Quaker history and theology (though not in a way that dominates or feels proselytizing) WW II history, Japanese history and culture, (including a couple of lines of poetry that were hauntingly beautiful) and again, rich, complex characters give this novel a sweet authenticity.

Read it! You'll not be sorry.
34 reviews10 followers
March 9, 2022
People living in Pennsylvania will be interested in this piece of historical fiction that takes place in Bedford, PA, at the Bedford Springs Hotel. (The Coffee Pot and The Ship Hotel are also part of the broader setting.) The hotel was home to Japanese diplomatic prisoners at the end of WWII. The author spins a tale of the relationship between the prisoners and one special worker at the hotel. We see the prisoners as people with abilities, talents, families, and feelings. One of the prisoners has a bowl with gold seams, a bowl that was broken and mended in the Japanese custom of putting the pieces back together with a special glue mixed with golden powder to make the cracks visible and beautiful. Lives, like the bowl, can be fractured and put back together again and be more beautiful or resilient. For me, though, the best story was about the hotel and its history.
Profile Image for Julia.
532 reviews10 followers
January 30, 2018
I thought this book was fairly good but nothing special. I got it for free in a book exchange from someone who didn't know me, so I didn't have a lot of expectations going in. I was pleasantly surprised to have them exceeded but it's not a wonderful book overall. I didn't develop a relationship with the main character and the plot felt a little stilted and shoehorned. But it was fascinating to learn about Japanese diplomatic detainees in the US, and I suspect telling that story was the entire excuse for writing the book in the first place.
60 reviews
April 10, 2022
A very interesting historical incident is explored in this historical novel - the temporary holding of the staff of Japan's embassy to Germany in a Pennsylvania Hotel in the Alleghenies at the end of World War II, after the German surrender but before Japan had surrendered. The Japanese surrender happens while the staff is still there. The reaction of the small Pennsylvania town where the hotel is located is fascinating, these people being the people who staff the hotel. Some of the relationships could be explored better, but still very interesting.
Profile Image for Agnes.
1,407 reviews1 follower
September 10, 2017
A new author (for me) whose story is set in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania during WWII mainly. Campbell writes with great description, yet doesn't overwhelm the reader. In 214 pages she wove an intriguing, interesting story about an incident of which I never heard before: Japanese ambassador to Germany and his entourage are kept at this old hotel as possible exchanges for American prisoners in Japan. In many ways it reminded me of "Crystal City" which I read earlier this year.
268 reviews
August 17, 2018
Interesting story. Again, reading about something that I have no recollection of hearing about in any of my US History classes growing up. Luckily for me Bedford Springs is only an hour away so we will be going for a tour in September. I did enjoy meeting these characters and reading they’re stories. I don’t know how I would have been changed if I had been in their situation, but I’m sure that experiences like these are life altering.
Profile Image for Loretta Radeschi.
Author 6 books
May 16, 2017
Ellen - I loved how you captured the essence of Bedford during the detainment, the conflict
Hazel Shaw experienced as a Quaker, her husband missing in the
Pacific and her working at the Springs. We each have a ‘story’ and you clearly showed how Hazel’s
‘story’ reverberated even in her sixth decade of life. Thank you for writing a novel I’ll long
Profile Image for Linda.
330 reviews
July 21, 2019
I like the part of the story inspired by the Japanese diplomats, their families and staff captured in Berlin being held at the Bedford Springs Hotel in Bedford, PA at the end of WWII. The way the author weaved the story into historical fiction I did not find satisfying. The actions of the characters I did not find believeable. I did finish the book and it held my interest.
244 reviews
November 3, 2017
I was disappointed in the structure of the book, a 29 page prologue that told us about an incident at the Quaker school where she was working in 1985 and it is resolved in the epilogue. I also didn't think Hazel Shaw was a credible Quaker woman.
Profile Image for Gail Lewis.
252 reviews4 followers
March 31, 2018
A WWII story set in Pennsylvania about Japanese ambassadors and families being detained at a resort hotel after Pearl Harbor. Hazel and her story come full circle as she deals with her memories and how what is broken can be beautiful.
Profile Image for Shellie Kelly.
270 reviews2 followers
January 20, 2023
Book about a man that is accused of something he didn’t do and then it weaves into a previous story about Japanese diplomats being housed in a hotel in central PA. It isn’t too much about a bowl with gold seams but more about how things that fall apart and be put back together beautifully.
79 reviews
June 18, 2020
Interesting setting--the Bedford Springs Hotel, which I have visited.
Profile Image for Deborah.
533 reviews15 followers
April 29, 2021
This was an interesting and quick read. Although the book was not long the author incorporated Quaker beliefs, Japanese culture, and enough character development to bring the events to life.
Profile Image for Lisa Roberts.
1,536 reviews
April 17, 2022
My postal book selection for round 10. Based on true events that I had never heard of and thoroughly enjoyed this slim novel.
Profile Image for Story Circle Book Reviews.
636 reviews61 followers
April 28, 2016
What can make the broken beautiful again? The Bowl with the Gold Seams takes the theme of mending work to a place of new meanings. Ellen Campbell reminds us of how mysterious and important our repair work is, whether we are dealing with shattered lives or ceramic bowls.

The golden seams of the pieced-together bowl on the book's cover are an apt metaphor for the emotional transformation of the book's main character, Hazel, whose life is in pieces after the deaths of those closest to her. By introducing us to another culture and its ancient art of Kintsugi (ceramic repair) the author shows us how to see redemption in a new light.

I was impatient with the beginning of the book (there were too many characters I did not care about in the 1985 prologue), the rest of the chapters flew by in a single afternoon. The forty-year sweep of time is crucial to the narrative. The book takes us back to real events in the WWII era at home in the US and reveals how the damage of wars ripples forward into our futures.

In this scene, read by the author in a video on her website, you meet the people who will change Hazel's life.

A woman, taller than any of the Japanese women or men, stood on the steps of the bus.

Sunlight glinted on a fringe of copper curls beneath a navy blue straw hat. A fine mesh veil hid her eyes; a green purse dangled from her arm. She smoothed her straight skirt over shapely hips with white-gloved hands.

One of the local girls, hired for kitchen help, hissed under her breath. "Must be a kraut married to a Jap." A girl with auburn hair, about twelve or thirteen years old, stood beside the woman before hurrying across the lawn to a slender man wearing a charcoal gray suit. He was very handsome; a shock of black hair swept back from a broad forehead.

"They have a kid," one of the girls said. "Look at that. A mongrel kid."

And that was my introduction to Charlotte, her mother, and her father.

The author realistically portrays both wartime concerns and the realities of racism in small town America. Campbell, a practicing psychotherapist, subtly warns readers to be aware of politics and its repercussions during any time of cross-cultural conflict. The way she returned to the past and fit the pieces together in the present day added the gold of emotional resonance to what was missing at the time when the characters' worlds were breaking apart. From the land of earthquakes and survivors of the first atomic bombs, Campbell helps us learn new lessons about the long-term costs of trauma and what can be done to recover our humanity.
Profile Image for Keri.
238 reviews4 followers
September 30, 2016
Let me start by saying the title of this book completely represents the writing in the most perfect way. This novel is a very quick, but deep and detailed. The author basically pulls out a chapter out of a time in WWII and the story surrounds this time. How Hazel was raised and grew up, has her struggling with a decision she has to make later in life. Without giving away any details or spoilers, I would say if you love to read short, detailed stories about the war and the struggles, this is your book!!!!
Profile Image for Kristin (Kritters Ramblings).
2,226 reviews99 followers
March 23, 2018
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings

In the midst of the war there was very extreme feelings about Japanese people and the government decided that sending them away to a camp and then eventually to Japan would help the situation. So a nice hotel in Bedford Springs, PA was a stopping ground before they made their way to Japan.

I was confused for a bit with the prologue taking place in current day and where it fit in the story and even after finishing the book, I am not sure of the inclusion, but quickly you leave that set up for the true heart of the story.
208 reviews
November 26, 2021
This novel hooked me in the beginning and I believe its hold will last a long time after reading the last page. The Quaker thoughts are expressed by main character Hazel's father ("We believe there's a little piece of God in everyone") The Japanese poetry quoted in the book ("Why did you disappear into the sky") was Hazel's sorrow filled question to her husband Neal who was a WW II soldier. The two cultures struggle against and join with each other in this excellent work of historical fiction.
Profile Image for Lurdes.
346 reviews1 follower
June 16, 2016
Historical fiction at its finest. With the real-world backdrop of the U.S. government's use of the Pennsylvania Bedford Springs Hotel as a detainee center for the Japanese ambassador to Berlin during WWII, Campbell draws us into an evocative time, both innocent and heart-breaking. But what makes it seem truly real are the relationships she creates between a father and child, teacher and student, enemy and friend -- all are equal parts tender and tragic.
Profile Image for Jodi.
1,841 reviews26 followers
October 2, 2016
I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It was an interesting look at World War II and the imprisonment of may Japanese people in the United States. I loved Hazel's kind heart in this book and how she befriended a young child locked-up with little control of her life. I loved their chance meeting so many years later in the book!
Profile Image for Diane King.
287 reviews
July 5, 2016

A beautiful depiction of another time that seeps into today reminding us that our lives are shaped by our experiences and choices.
Displaying 1 - 26 of 26 reviews

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