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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

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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.

290 pages, Hardcover

First published January 27, 2009

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About the author

Jamie Ford

22 books3,122 followers
Jamie Ford’s debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list and went on to win the 2010 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. Jamie’s work has been published in 34 languages. Also, because Jamie feels weird writing about himself in the 3rd person, he’s going to say…

Hi, this is me.

Not a publicist. Not some weird aggregated bit of web-content, just little ol’ me, the author, sitting here in my favorite Batman pajamas (yes, I have several pairs) writing this note in my cozy home office, dog at my feet. Her name is Lucy and she’s twitching right now, obviously chasing squirrels in her dreams.

While we’re chatting, I should mention that my latest novel novel, The Many Daughters of Afong Moy, is now available for pre-order :)

If you’re looking for more things that have spilled out of my brain, I have steampunk storiess in The End is Nigh, The End is Now, and The End Has Come (The Apocalypse Triptych). Also a tale in Stories from Suffragette City.

Lest I forget, I have a story in Anonymous Sex, but I'm not allowed to say which story is mine.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 22,234 reviews
Profile Image for Jeff.
215 reviews94 followers
March 21, 2009
"Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" is as saccharine and overly sentimental as the title suggests. It is historical fiction for the Nicholas Sparks set -- an emotionally heavy-handed novel that is well told, but not particularly well written.

There are some diamonds in the rough, though: the historical aspects of the novel are very interesting; the relationships depicted in the book, while not always believable, are complex; and, the issues related to cultural identity and racial discrimination in the States during WWII are very well detailed.

All in all, "Hotel" is a great story couched in an okay novel. Ford is a promising writer who, I feel, needs to trust his readers more. That is, he needs to let us feel without trying SO hard to manipulate those feelings.
Profile Image for Nan.
846 reviews76 followers
April 21, 2013
Original review posted: Mar 19, 09

I have to admit that I did not like this book. Mr. Ford is a decent writer, and while he did research 1942 fairly extensively, he did a crappy job portraying 1986. I was alive in '86. I was ten, in fact. While my memory of the time is going to be different than that of a 50 year old character, I wound up being very tired of the repeated anachronisms. In one paragraph--on page four of the book, I believe--the narrator tells the readers that the main character's son is seeing a grief counselor and participating in an Internet support group. In 1986, that sort of thing would have been highly unlikely. Further, in that same paragraph, he tells us the main character's deceased wife is buried in the same cemetary with Bruce and Brandon Lee--and this is seven years before Brandon's death.

I'm not the kind of reader that gets easily annoyed by poor detail editing--but I am annoyed when sloppy research (or a failure to do any sort of research) leads to misrepresentations of the setting. I found this book to be very sloppy indeed.

Edit posted: April 21, 2013
After years of getting comments and feedback on this review, I will take the time to edit it for two important details.

1. Many of the errors that I found irritating were fixed in the paperback edition of the book. I would argue that this means that others also found the errors irritating that they were, indeed, errors.

2. Ford replies to the internet issue as one of his FAQ replies on his website. He states:
"I'm afraid I have to reveal just how geeky I truly am. I was on Compuserve in 1984, with an old coupler modem like you saw in the movie Wargames. Back when you had to pay $100 to sign up and were charged by the hour. Just because most people weren't online then, doesn't mean no one was. Just the few, the proud, the computer geeks..."

You can see the comment here.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,279 reviews35k followers
March 9, 2018
Set in Seattle during the Japanese internment during WW2. This book has a sweeping feel to it. It starts out slow - but not slow in the sense who feel like you are waiting for paint to dry - but slow in the "This is really going somewhere" kind of way. It does go somewhere by the way. Once the ball gets rolling, this book sweeps you up into the lives of two friends who made a promise to see each other again.

The book begins as Henry Lee stands in front of the Panama Hotel. This hotel has been boarded up for years but a new owner has discovered something inside - the belongings of Japanese families. Their possessions that were left behind when they were rounded up and taken to internment camps. As he stands watching, a simple act happens...the owner opens up a Japanese parasol. This act takes him back. We have all experienced this. A scent, a food, a location, a sound can take us back to our youth, or to the home of a loved one.

For Henry Lee, the open parasol takes him back to the 1940s. Henry is raised by a father who wants his Chinese son to be an "American" at all costs. Henry through a "Scholarship" is sent to school where the "American/White" kids ignore him. But there is one person who does not ignore him and that it a young Japanese girl named Keiko. They form a friendship. A type of young love if you will. Sweet and innocent. But then Keiko and her family are rounded up and she is whisked away.

Henry wonders "Is this her Parasol?" Could more of her families belongings be inside? Can he come to terms with what happened so long ago? Can he rebuild her relationship with his son?

I thought this book was really good. Such a great book club book. So many discussions to be had. There are elements of friendship, love, loss, betrayal, longing, guilt, loneliness, etc.

See more of my reviews at www.openbookpost.com
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews865 followers
February 5, 2022
"I had my chance, and sometimes in life, there are no second chances. You look at what you have, not what you miss, and you move forward.”

An Interview with Jamie Ford, Author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was an easy book to get swept into. Henry Lee's search into his past is triggered by a discovery, at the Panama Hotel, of belongings from Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during WWII. Among those belongings, Henry is hoping to find one specific memory which connects him to the love of his youth, the Japanese-American girl, Keiko Okabe. Can Henry recover what he's lost 40 years ago? After all those years, will it even look the same? Both the Chinese and especially the Japanese districts of Seattle (and the people who move within them) come alive in Ford's moving story. With echoes of Edith Wharton transposed to a different time and place, family, tradition and friendship highlight this beautifully crafted historical novel.


Great to meet Jamie Ford at the High Plains Bookfest in Billings in October!
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,225 followers
October 11, 2017
For me Jamie Ford's heralded, multiple award-winning Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was an entirely luke warm reading experience from start to finish.

The emotional heat that should have brewed within a story of this nature, considering the volatile subject matter, failed to materialize. I never tasted the venom of injustice as I should have. The details of Japanese internment in America during WWII was certainly interesting to read about, especially since I know so little about it. Seeing our country, a country founded on freedom, take it away from its own citizens is chilling. I just didn't feel the chill in Ford's words as much as I could and should have.

Otherwise, it was a lovely story. A quaint and well-written love story indeed. I did have a hard time rooting for the romantic connection between these two children. They were just too young for me to think in those terms, and maybe it wasn't intended to be so intimate. Certainly their relationship is sweet and I felt myself pulling for them, but I was pulling with all the strength and enthusiasm I would if I were pitted in a game of tug-o-war against a two year old.

Regardless of my less than perfect reading experience, I think this would be a great book for someone looking for a 20th century historical romance. Perhaps someone who likes YA romance and who doesn't mind it being set against a background of truth and terror for Japanese Americans during World War II.
Profile Image for Lynn.
57 reviews
February 24, 2009
I loved this book, but I had one minor annoyance with it. The author had 4 anachronisms: the book is set (in part) in 1986, and yet the son is in an "on-line" grief support group, and used the internet to look up a lost friend, and there is talk twice about digital conversion of records to CDs.

This book is told by a 50+ year old second generation Chinese-American. It is told in two different time periods, and flows back and forth between the 1940's to 1986 seemlessly. It is the story of a young chinese boy who is thrown together with a young japanese girl in Seattle during WW2. It is the story of their friendship/love, and also that of the other relationships that the boy has: his Chinese parents, a local black jazz musician, and later with his own son and son's fiance. Very well written, and very touching.

It gave an interesting insight into the Chinese views of the war, along with the effects, and the aftermath, of the Japanese internment on the Seattle area.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.5k followers
September 25, 2020
Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford

Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter and Sweet is a love and history novel, by author Jamie Ford.

The story is a diary of the main protagonist Henry Lee, the story consists of two parallel story lines with one following Henry's childhood during the Second World War, and the other showing Henry as a grown man who is married and has a son.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز دهم ماه سپتامبر سال 2018میلادی

عنوان: هتلی در کنج تلخ و شیرین؛ نویسنده: جیمی فورد؛ مترجم مرجان محمدی؛ تهران کتابسرای تندیس‏‫، 1396؛ در 422ص؛ شابک 9786001822537؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان امریکایی - سده 21م

هنری لی متوجه جمعیتی می‌شود، که مقابل «هتل پاناما» در محله‌ ی ژاپنی‌های «سیاتل» گرد آمده اند؛ هتل ده‌ها سال تخته ‌کوب بوده، و حالا مالک جدید اشیاء شگفت‌ انگیزی در زیرزمین آن یافته است؛ اشیائی که از آن خانواده‌ های «ژاپنی- آمریکایی» ست، که در زمان جنگ جهانی دوم، دولت «آمریکا»، آن‌ها را از خانه‌ هاشان بیرون کرده، و به اردوگاههای جنگی فرستاده بود؛ «هنری»، مالک هتل را می‌بیند که چتری حصیری را باز می‌کند، و همین کار او را به دهه ی 1940میلادی می‌برد، به اوج جنگ، به زمانی که دنیای «هنری» انباشته بود از سردرگمی و هیجان، به دورانی که با «کیکو اوکابه»، هم‌شاگردی ژاپنی‌ خویش آشنا، و سپس معصومانه عاشقش می‌شود

نقل از متن: (من چینی هستم (1942میلادی)؛ «هنری لی» کوچک وقتی دوازده سالش شد، دیگر با پدر و مادرش حرف نزد؛ نه اینکه از روی بچگی بهانه های ابلهانه بگیرد، بلکه پدر و مادرش از او چنین خواستند؛ به هر حال ماجرا اینطور بود؛ آنها از او خواستند...؛ نه؛ به او گفتند، دیگر به زبان مادری اش، یعنی چینی حرف نزند؛ سال 1942میلادی بود، و آنها به هر وسیله ای متوصل میشدند، که «هنری» انگلیسی یاد بگیرد؛ این کارشان وقتی «هنری» را گیجتر کرد، که پدرش نشان دکمه مانندی را، به لباس مدرسه اش سنجاق کرد، که رویش نوشته بود «من چینی هستم.»؛ تناقضی که این میان وجود داشت نامعقول به نظر میرسید؛ با خودش میگفت، معنی ندارد پدرم؛ «هنری» به زبان صحیح «کانتونی» پرسید: «من نمیفهمم.»؛ پدرش یک سیلی در گوشش خواباند؛ البته نه چندان محکم، فقط برای اینکه حواسش را جمع کند؛ «بس، فقط تو آمریکایی حرف زد» کلمات به زبان «چینگلیش» از دهان پدر بیرون میآمد؛ «هنری» به انگلیسی گفت: «من نمیفهمم.» پدر پرسید: «هان؟»؛ «اگر قرار نیست چینی حرف بزنم، پس چرا این نشان را به سینه ام زده اید؟»؛ «هان؟ چی؟» پدر رو به مادر کرد که از ��شپزخانه سرک میکشید؛ قیافه ی او هم مبهوت بود؛ شانه بالا انداخت و سراغ آشپزی اش رفت، که از بویش معلوم بود، مشغول پختن کیک شاه بلوط است؛ پدرش دوباره سر وقت «هنری» برگشت، و دستش را در هوا تکان داد، و او را به بیرون از خانه هدایت کرد، تا به مدرسه برود؛ از آنجاییکه «هنری» نمیتوانست به زبان «کانتونی» چیزی بپرسد، و پدر و مادرش انگلیسی نمیفهمیدند، از خیر ماجرا گذشت؛ ساک غذا و کتابهایش را برداشت؛ از پله ها پایین رفت و قدم در هوای مملو از بوی شوری دریا، و ماهی محله ی «چینیهای سیاتل» گذاشت؛ صبح که میشد همه ی شهر بیدار میشدند؛ مردها با ��ی شرتهای کثیف از لکه ی ماهی، جعبه های ماهیهای صید شده، و سطلهای «صدف خرطومدار» مدفون زیر یخها را حمل میکردند؛ «هنری» از کنارشان میگذشت، به صدای مردهایی گوش میداد که با لهجه ای «چینی» که حتی او هم نمی��همید، سر هم داد میکشیدند؛ به جای رفتن به مدرسه ی «چینیها»، در سمت شرق، که سه خیابان با آپارتمانشان در طبقه ی دوم فاصله داشت، به طرف غرب، سمت خیابان «جکسون» میرفت؛ از دکه ی گلفروشی و فالگیری میگذشت، که شماره های خوش یمن لاتاری میفروخت؛ کار هر روز صبحش این بود، که پیاده تا سر خیابان برود، و با گروهی از بچه های همسن و سال خودش، روبرو شود، که همه در جهت مخالف او میرفتند)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 03/07/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Ariella.
264 reviews18 followers
December 20, 2012
Oy vey.
I really did want to like this book. It sounded like the perfect book for my mood: Not too highfalutin or literary, but a good story I which I can immerse myself and escape to a different time and place.
As I went on Goodreads a few days ago to add the book to my list of 'currently reading' however, I came across a number of really bad reviews. Disappointed, and somewhat deflated, I nevertheless read on trying to ignore the negativity, stay positive and try to like the story and get into the characters.
Well, I got to page 67.
And reviewers who gave bad reviews: you were right.
My first suspicions about the writing came in one of the first chapters where one page after the other the paragraphs start the same way:
Henry wasn't sure which was... Worse, (pg 27) and ... More .frustrating (pg 29). Which just led me thinking: Where was the editor here?

I even read through this sentence on page 33:
The sum total of Henry's Japanese friends happened to be a number that rhymed with hero.

What?!? What kind of sentence is that? From an adult? Someone trying to evoke the feel of a Chinese immigrant to the US in the 1940's?! That kind of writing is a word that rhymes with spit.

Another 30 pages into the book and I thought: why bother? The author clearly hasn't been able to capture my attention, I am not drawn into the story or the characters and while I really wasn't looking for prose of genius, the are minimum requirements of what I am willing to read. (Maybe this book would be better as an audio?)

So I put down. I give it one star and a new title: Prose on the Precipice of Barfy and Saccharain
July 11, 2019
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an absorbing story of hope and love. It is set against the politically tumultuous period of World War II, where we experience the alienation forces between the Chinese, Japanese and America people as they live together in the United States. Henry is a Chinese-American boy who lives in Chinatown, Seattle and is close friends with the only other non-white student at his school. That friend is Keiko, a Japanese-American girl who lives in Seattle’s Nihonmachi (Japantown) district.

The story very interestingly brings the foreign and age-old conflicts between China and Japan to US shores and tarnishes the family acceptance of any relationship, even though Henry and Keiko are both naturalised American citizens. With the bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1941 and the declaration of war between the USA and Japan, there is an overwhelming division between the Japanese and all other communities. As a consequence Japanese immigrants are interned in camps, their personal belongings are stored in the Hotel on the Corner, The Panama Hotel, and their remaining properties and businesses are looted.

The story covers an aspect of the war that I hadn’t really appreciated, how Japanese immigrants were treated in the United States after the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

The relationship between Henry and Keiko is developed from the racial minority connection but grows into a genuine attraction and ultimately love. The strength of their relationship will be tested as it faces immense political and cultural forces that drive alienation. The efforts of how Henry tried to maintain his connection with Keiko, even visiting her in the camps in disguise, is very touching and well portrayed. The Japanese are relocated inland and he loses all contact, although he never forgets and never stops wondering what may have been.

So this is a gentle love story against all the odds. They created memories and moments in their short time together that will never be forgotten. A piece of his heart was forever given to Keiko.

The novel alternates between the 1940s and 1986. In 1986 the Panama Hotel is the centre of refurbishment as it has lain abandoned since it was boarded up during the war. When its doors are opened they discover the belongings of the interned Japanese people from 1942. Henry's memories of Keiko come rushing back and he searches the belongings desperately looking for a memento, a rare record, that he shared with Keiko. He wonders and starts off on a mission to see if he can track her down or at least find out what happened to her.

I would recommend this book.
Profile Image for Dorie  - Cats&Books :).
991 reviews2,760 followers
February 19, 2019
This was my first ever audiobook. It was a good choice, listening to it being read with Chinese accents from Henry and his family made it even more interesting.

This is the story of Henry, an American born Chinese American and his family, including his dogmatic and anti-Japanese father.

Keiko is a second generation Japanese American.

The two meet in a special school where they have won scholarships because of their high intellect. They are the two OUTCASTS in an otherwise all white school. It is the height of the war an there is much hatred towards the Japanese. The two are very young, only about 12 and 13 but they build a strong friendship. Henry has to lie in order to see Keiko, her family has no problem with Henry.

Then the bill is signed that sent thousands of Japanese from the west coast, in this case Seattle, to internment camps, many in Colorado. The two try to keep in touch but eventually the ties are broken

Henry never gets over Keiko and when his present wife dies he eventually tracks her down, with the help of his son. The two have a final poignant meeting.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to all fans of historical fiction.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,001 reviews35.9k followers
April 5, 2020
Geee --How did I not mark this gem?

Lisa --(who is reading it now) ...just reminded me! Thanks Lisa -- Hope you are enjoying it!

I read it twice, and own it!

Its the type of book I'm in the mood for 'now' ....(looking through old books that I own) ...

Question to readers:
Any suggestions for 'other' books similar in 'feeling' and or story? to "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter Sweet"? Something I 'haven't read?
I'm all ears!!!


Profile Image for مرجان محمدی.
Author 17 books194 followers
March 16, 2022
لینک خرید کتاب برای خارج از ایران

:نامه نویسنده به خوانندگان ایرانی

Dear friend,

When I heard that my debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, was going to be published in Persian, my first thought was, “Fantastic! Perhaps I could attend the Tehran Book Festival.”
You see I would love to visit your country.
I’ve had friends travel to Iran in the past and they’ve told me wonderful things—about the history, the culture, and especially the kind and generous people.
Also, whenever the leaders of my country say there’s someplace Americans shouldn’t go, I want to go there even more.
Because I believe literature can, and should, transcend politics. And because I believe readers—lovers of books, wherever they live, are the best kind of people—curious and compassionate, creative and filled with boundless hope. I firmly believe that there is connectivity through storytelling. Or as the great poet, Hafez, once said, “Found nothing more joyful than the sound of words of love.”
So as a writer (and a reader) I’m daydreaming about a better day, not too far into the future, when perhaps I can be there in person, to thank you for picking up my book—a noble romantic tragedy, a recollection of a forgotten and somewhat shameful chapter in US history, and an innocent love story about people who are seemingly different, but really the same.
Thank you to Tandis for publishing this book, and a special thank you to Marjan Mohammadi for her hard work and expertise in translating this story.
I hope you enjoy my work and if so, I’d love to hear from you.
Kindest regards,

Jamie Ford

P.S. Tehran Book Festival. One of these days…

دوست عزیز،
وقتی شنیدم رمان اولم، «هتلی در کنج تلخ و شیرین» به زبان فارسی چاپ می‌شود، اولین چیزی که به فکرم رسید این بود: «عالی است! شاید بتوانم در نمایشگاه کتاب تهران شرکت کنم.»
می‌دانید، خیلی دوست دارم کشور شما را ببینم.
بعضی از دوستانم پیش از این به ایران سفر کرده و چیزهای شگفت‌انگیزی تعریف کرده‌اند؛ از تاریخ، فرهنگ و مخصوصاً از مردم مهربان و سخاوتمندش.
همچنین، هر وقت رهبران کشور من می‌گویند ایران جایی است که بهتر است آمریکایی‌ها به آن سفر نکنند، من بیشتر مشتاق این سفر می‌شوم. زیرا معتقدم ادبیات می‌تواند و باید از سیاست فراتر رود. همچنین باور دارم کتابخوان‌ها، عاشقان کتاب، هر جای این دنیا که زندگی کنند، از بهترین آدم‌ها هستند، کنجکاو و مهربان، خلاق و سرشار از امیدی بی‌حد و حصر. من تردید ندارم که قصه‌گویی برای ایجاد ارتباط است. همان‌طور که شاعر بزرگ، حافظ می‌گوید: «از صدای سخن عشق ندیدم خوشتر.»
ازاین‌رو به‌عنوان نویسنده (و البته کتاب‌خوان) رؤیای روزی بهتر را در سر می‌پرورانم که چندان دور نباشد و آن‌وقت شاید بتوانم به آنجا بیایم و از شما تشکر کنم که کتاب مرا انتخاب کردید، کتابی که درباره‌ی یک تراژدی عاشقانه‌ی باشکوه است و فصلی فراموش‌شده و تا حدی شرم‌آور از تاریخ آمریکا را در خاطره‌ها زنده می‌کند. کتابی که داستان عشق معصومانه‌ی آدم‌هایی است که در ظاهر متفاوت‌اند، اما در باطن یکی هستند.
سپاسگزارم از نشر تندیس برای چاپ این کتاب و سپاس ویژه از مرجان محمدی برای کار سختی که انجام داده است و از خبرگی‌اش در ترجمه‌ی این داستان.
امیدوارم از کتابم لذت ببرید و اگر لذت بردید مشتاق شنیدن نظرات‌تان هستم.
با بهترین آرزوها،
جِیمی فورد
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Profile Image for Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh.
167 reviews508 followers
February 3, 2013
Switching between 1942 and 1986 this is an easy read on a complex subject. A historical romance with a Romeo & Juliet twist, this time the doomed love affair between Henry, a Chinese American and Keiko, a Japanese American; its historical focus the internment of Japanese Americans during WW2.
I loved the inclusion of Seattle’s music scene, the symbolism of the lost jazz record interwoven throughout, the passages that escalated it above a pure romance novel.
It shone exploring the dynamics of a typical Chinese American family. Henry’s father with his clear allegiance to China coupled with his hatred for the Japanese, his mother’s struggle to bring together a husband & son so opposed in their beliefs. ’Saang Jan’ you are a stranger to me. I can’t say the same for it’s portrayal of Kioko’s family. Their stoic acceptance (bordering on cheerful resignation) over the loss of all they owned while very commendable rang false. As a romance this is a 4 star read, for plot & character development a 3. I guess I wanted more substance, a little more bitter & a little less sweet.

“How could they sit back and do nothing when this many people were being taken away – when they could be next?”

“It was the record, their record. Oscar Holden’s ‘Alley Cat Strut.” It shouted at the night, louder than the storm.”

Notes: Canada also interred it’s Japanese Canadians during WW2 as told in The Jade Peony They say all is fair in Love and War - it’s understandable that alliances were questioned – Still books like these bring to light a subject worth reflecting on.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,462 reviews560 followers
April 7, 2020
The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet hit my sweet spot! Ford skillfully melds a Chinese boy's experiences in 1940s Seattle, the reprehensible internment of Japanese during WWII, and a love story. Involving and satisfying.
Profile Image for Aoibhínn.
158 reviews208 followers
July 13, 2017
Set in Seattle, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet tells of the forbidden friendship between a Chinese-American boy named Henry Lee and a Japanese-American girl named Keiko Okabe during the Second World War. Henry and Keiko are both just twelve years old when they become friends in 1942. Life is difficult for both of them. They face racism and prejudice on a daily basis and Henry's father does not approve of the friendship. After the devastation of Pearl Harbour, the US government decides to send all the people of Japanese decent to live in internment camps until the war is over. Henry and Keiko find themselves separated.

I really loved this book! Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a beautiful, fascinating, tender and moving story from beginning to end. Like the title suggests, the story is such a bitter-sweet tale, heartbreaking at times and so warm and sweet in others. This novel is set during two time periods, the 1940's and 1986. I found both periods equally compelling to read about. It is incredibly rare to find a historical fiction novel about World War Two that isn't set in Europe! Before reading this book, I knew nothing about how badly the Japanese in America were treated during the war. I was quite shocked by this. I have to admit I cried a few times while reading this book!

All the characters were vivid, well-developed and realistic. I really loved the characters of Henry, Keiko and Sheldon, and really cared about what happened to them. I've just got one gripe with the novel. I would have liked to know what happened in Keiko's life during the intervening years while they were apart.

I found it really hard to put this novel down and I look forward to reading more from this author!

Five Stars!
Profile Image for Ingrid.
1,208 reviews50 followers
November 2, 2018
Beautiful love story in wartime USA. I had no idea how the Japanese were treated in the USA during the war, but of course it was no different from how other countries treated the enemies that lived among them. The only thing I didn't like was that Henry was portrayed as an 80 year old while he was only 56 in the story.
Profile Image for Susan.
Author 36 books492 followers
May 5, 2011
I'm always a little behind the curve when it comes to reading blockbuster NYT bestsellers. I think a part of me resists because I love finding "little" books that deserve kudos and talking about them. But I had heard so many good things about THE HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET that I bought it, though I sat on it a while before I cracked it open to read. Once I did, I was hooked instantly by the wonderful character of Henry Lee, a 12-year-old boy in Seattle's Chinatown during the early years of America's involvement in WWII. Henry's relationship with Keiko, a Japanese girl at his otherwise white school, is frowned upon by his father (in fact, he doesn't even tell his parents about Keiko for a long time). I so enjoyed seeing the boy Henry was (in the 1940s) interspersed with more modern chapters (1980s) so I also viewed the man he became. A sweet and eye-opening tale about love and humanity during an uncivil era. Highly recommended for readers of all ages.
Profile Image for Laura .
83 reviews14 followers
December 7, 2008
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, Release Date 1/27/2009, $24.00

I've just finished reading Jamie Ford's forthcoming novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and am still basking in the glow. The characters are fully realized, the title is a real attention grabber, and the story fleshed out with plenty of local and period detail. Ford provides an intimate look at life on the homefront during WWII from the uncommon perpective of an earnest Chinese-American boy and his Japanese-American school friend. I think Henry and Keiko are two of the most engaging characters I've come across in a long while and I will not soon forget them, nor Sheldon, the saxophone player who befreinds them. I'm not the type of reader that necessarily longs for a happy ending, but this one certainly satisfies.

Profile Image for Nicole.
731 reviews1,829 followers
October 18, 2021
Just like the title says, this story is bitter and sweet. I enjoyed listening to the audio. I had no idea Japanese living in the US faced such racism during the war (well they always did but that increased during the war). I honestly don’t have a lot to say about it so I’m not sure if I’m going to review it. It was interesting but not a book that’ll stay with me.
Profile Image for emma.
1,822 reviews48.1k followers
April 5, 2022
my grandma leant me this book, and it's a classic grandma read. historical. readable. a lil romance. everything a grandma needs.

and also apparently everything 17 year old me needs, because i thought this was good.

part of a series i'm doing in which i review books i read a long time ago
Profile Image for Mauoijenn.
1,127 reviews111 followers
August 14, 2015
I am Chinese

This was a touching story of friendship, love and loss. I enjoyed this very much. Great characters, rich history and beautifully written. My local library picked this as the second book in their book club. I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone thinks of it.
913 reviews401 followers
March 15, 2011
No. Just, no.

I had pretty much decided to abandon this book unfinished when I received notification that the audiobook I had requested from the library was now available for download. Well, that clinched it.

And so, in the style of Goodnight Moon, I am bidding this book good-bye. Good-bye book. Good-bye hopelessly twee title (which should have been a clue). Good-bye awkward dialogue, and good-bye emotional manipulation. Good-bye, poor cliched struggling immigrant adolescent Henry. Good-bye, clearly doomed age-inappropriate romance. Good-bye, Henry's efforts to dodge the one-dimensional evil bullies. Good-bye, contrived coincidences. Good-bye, stock characters. Good-bye, goodreaders everywhere whose ratings of this book averaged out to 3.9. (3.9!)
Profile Image for Laura.
1,167 reviews121 followers
August 20, 2012
Okay, I am not the target audience for this book. One of my favorite teachers in high school was sent to one of the internment camps as a child. I’ve met Fred Korematsu, whose challenge to internship went all the way to the Supreme Court back in the day. I’ve read that opinion. I know several members of the excellent legal team that got his conviction vacated. I know the Justice Department lied to the Supreme Court about the “known danger” the Japanese-Americans represented. My grandmother bought a house on 10th and Jefferson from a neighbor being sent away, and my boss’s family took in an ebony and ivory piano from neighbors being removed that he later, at no small expense, had restored and donated to a Buddhist temple in Wapato. I love George Takei and have exchanged tweets with him. I know about the internment camps. I am deeply ashamed.

I am not the target audience. I am no fan of the sweet and sentimental; of pathos and wistfulness; of romance and thwarted love. And I despise Orson Scott Card, who helped get this book written, for his stalwart work on behalf of homophobia. Science fiction writers who are on the wrong side of history belong in the special hell.

So I didn’t like the book, but understand, seriously, I am not in the target audience. I suspect, though I don’t know, that the author did not mean to write about the Japanese internment. He meant to write a thwarted love story. The author interview in the back of the book disclaims any political intent, which baffles me. Given the opportunity to clearly condemn – or even defend -- the internment, he evades. I don’t get that. The most he can come up with is "beloved president Reagan apologized." When asked if he saw a parallel between the calls to close the border or remove Muslim Americans, he seemed astonished that there might be one.

I do not love President Reagan. The parallel is bleeding.

If I hadn’t been reading this for my reading group, I never would have picked it up. But I did, and I finished it. It’s a quick read. It’s about a guy who meets a girl, falls in love with a girl, loses a girl to the Japanese internment and his father’s racism, and moves on to be a good husband to a different woman. Who dies. Opening up our guy to find his first love. I suspect it’s one of those books that attempts to mine those “rich veins of ordinary life” I hear that non-genre literature is lovingly mining. I almost always find such books trite and cloying. This one was no exception.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,889 reviews428 followers
April 7, 2020
I enjoyed 'Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet' by Jamie Ford. It is deceptively low-key and emotionally even-tempered despite the controversial subject matter.

The novel is about certain painful intersections of time, place and cultures, specifically 1942 and 1986. Those years are seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old Chinese-American boy at first, and then of a 56-year-old widower, both of whom are Henry Lee. Henry Lee was born in and lived his entire life in Seattle, Washington State, in America to immigrant Chinese parents. He speaks English, but his parents do not. They speak only Cantonese, and although they want Henry to be only American, they follow the old ways of their Chinese community.

The story alternates between following the child Henry as he contends with the conflicting motives and prejudices of his father during World War II, and the grownup Henry who is learning to live without his wife. Henry's wife recently died from cancer. He also wants to understand his modern American adult son, Marty.

Henry and his father shared one cultural rule - do not express feelings. Otherwise, everything else was a point of misunderstanding and cultural obliviousness between them. Henry attended a local White-race elementary school, which was engineered by his socially important father. Henry was forbidden to speak Cantonese at home! It meant he had to communicate in sign language with his parents, except on occasion when he had to translate for them.

Henry's family lived in what I grew up calling Seattle's International District (which the author is spot on in describing), but during WWII, it was called Chinatown. Chinatown was where Chinese people were a majority population, but nearby was a Japanese enclave of businesses and homes. Black people also lived there. Today (2016), the International District is an incredibly diverse population of different cultures and countries, but it mostly reflects many Asian cultures.

World War II caused prejudices to explode within and without the enclaves, both from national patriotism and personal considerations. To some White Americans, there were no differences between the Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Americans and the enemy Japanese. Likewise, to many immigrant first-generation Chinese-Americans, all Japanese were enemies since Japan had been slaughtering Chinese in China for a decade, long before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Henry's father hated the Japanese whether American-Japanese or not. He had suspicions about Japanese-American loyalties the same as many Whites did. He forced Henry to wear a large button declaring Henry to be Chinese in English to protect him from abuses from White people (in spite of the button, Henry still suffers from beatings by a white student at school).

Henry is depressed and confused. When he meets and begins to like a 12-year-old Japanese girl attending the same elementary school he is before the Japanese were forced into the camps, Henry has to make some immediate decisions about his father, his obligations to his Chinese society's traditions and what exactly being an American 'of color' and yet also a completely Americanized American-born citizen, is about. Doing this while an ongoing war has intensified panic and fear

'Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet' is a love story of many things - Seattle, families and people in cultural transition, letting go of beloved traditions, an innocent romance between a boy and a girl - while it also quietly reflects on the failures and stresses behind 'multiculturalism'.

America was created with a written Constitution defining us as a Republic democracy with certain laws. Some of those laws define the rights of all citizens within American borders. Some of these mandated rights are about giving all citizens freedom to express ideas, religions, and culture, as long as there is no harmful coercion or illegal behavior, and as refined by the Supreme Court, without any interference from either the Federal or States' governments.

Unfortunately, diversity is difficult to tolerate in actual practice, particularly when cultural differences are perceived as putting others of different cultures in mortal danger.

When common ordinary people threaten to indulge in lynching and mass murderous mayhem to protect themselves if they believe the government won't protect them, even when there is no real danger whatsoever, the American government must keep the peace and to stop all mayhem before any other considerations. Peace comes first before justice or rights. However, during World War II, in the name of protecting the nation from destructive disorder, and, thankfully, in not allowing the mass murder of Japanese-Americans, America nonetheless chose a cruel, racist response to appease White-race fears. America suspended Constitutional rights for Japanese Americans during the war and imprisoned them in concentration camps as if they were prisoners-of-war.

In moving all Japanese-Americans to horrible camps, away from friends, jobs and their legally purchased property, Japanese-American citizens lost everything they owned and all of their hard-earned wealth besides their Constitutional rights. There was absolutely NO cause ever discovered of danger from Japanese-Americans. It is a historical fact German prisoners-of-war captured in the fighting and transferred to American prisoner camps received better housing, medical care and humane treatment than did the Japanese-Americans living in their designated camps. Non-combatant German-American and Italian-American citizens were not placed into American concentration camps. While some German-Americans experienced unlawful discrimination and personal assaults during WWII, they were mostly left to live their lives in whatever community they had settled in and to continue keeping their businesses, jobs, houses, property and money.

The book and the history behind it is a Romeo-and-Juliet tragedy in every dimension in my opinion. I think this novel may be too soft-spoken for some readers, but I found it a very good read.
Profile Image for Ace.
433 reviews23 followers
March 13, 2018
I'm always seeing those posts on Facebook of kids of different cultures and races playing together, hugging each other and only seeing what they love. These are messages to the wider world that adults shouldn't really be imposing their racist, prejudicial fears on their kids. Henry and Keiko are 2 such beautiful little souls. In 1942, while the world is fighting and killing each other these two are just managing to get through the day without being picked on, smacked around or abused because one is Chinese and the other, God forbid is Japanese. They live in America and while I would love to believe that things have changed for the better there, sadly, it appears to be getting worse. The story (Henry's story) unfolds back and forth between 1942 and 1986 and I absolutely loved it
Profile Image for Joe Krakovsky.
Author 7 books180 followers
August 25, 2021
It has been some time since I read this book for our library book club selection so some things are a little fuzzy. My reason for writing this is due to facts I read about in another book, "Silent Siege - II." Although this story was okay, I liked the romance, there are some facts I want to set straight. They are as follows.

"There was one more topic covered in great detail here and that was the placing of Japanese families from the west coast in camps. This program as presented today is misrepresented in so many ways. Sensationalism is the reason. To begin with, newspapers and editors fanned the flames of racism. The social media of the day called for a witch hunt. While it was true that there was a fear of Japanese on the west coast, the same applied to others of Axis descent. Joe Dimaggio's mother, being Italian, was forced to move.

Camps were set up with barbed wire that were meant to protect the people within from those who wanted to hurt them. Finding a place for these camps were difficult due to various organizations such as labor unions and even American Indians. Those within could leave the camps. Some 40,000 Japanese families requested placement in camps where they had free food and many other benefits while other Americans had rationing. One old Japanese woman told the author she was working 16 hours a day until she entered the camp. She missed it.

Several thousand young American-born Japanese who were educated and brainwashed in Japan wished to return to Japan to enlist in the military, and kill Americans. These and those who were known to be dangerous were rounded up and confined in camps. (The US could read secret messages.) The families of those rounded up could join them if they wished. This is probably where the sensationalism comes into play as they claimed they were locked up in concentration camps."

By the way, one reviewer of "Silent Siege - II." accused the author of being a racist and not a friend of the Japanese. If that was the case than she must not have read the book or looked at the pictures therein.
Profile Image for Karla.
279 reviews98 followers
May 12, 2010
A rich, tender, personal story so touching and full of history I should know, but didn't. Pulled at my heartstrings and made me longingly linger over and over the last few chapters.
Set durring the height of Nihonmachi district (JapanTown) area of Seattle, Washingtom. You jump from 1986 to 1942 thoughout the story. To tell the tale of Henery Lee an intelligent, brave, 12yr old Chinese American quickly growing into a man thru struggling WWII times. He has a strained relationship with his father mirroring that as a grown man in his fiftys he also struggles to open communications with his own grown son Marty.
This is a rare book find for me as a closer look into the Japanese and Chinese American citizens and the bigotry and hatred they endured, because the country thought any could be spies. I gained new insight about the internment camps all Japanese citizens were evacuateed to with only possessions they could carry. Was a powerful look into American history as hearts and humanity broke down, inflicted by war and the damage to repair years after as relationships try to mend.
Not very many books have made me read thru tears but this was such a profound story that needed to be written, with characters believable and heroic. A Beautiful Romeo and Juliet style romantic tale. I loved the symbolisms used, most of which the old vinyl 78 Oscar Holden record. I also enjoyed getting a peek into the 1940's Seattle jazz scene.

Profile Image for Crystal Craig.
250 reviews575 followers
November 10, 2021
Be sure to visit my Favorites Shelf for the books I found most entertaining.

Jamie Ford's, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet lived up to my expectations. This book has a title that begs you to pick it up. It's about history and culture and music. But, like most love stories that take place during war times - there's sadness and heartbreak.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,186 reviews1,098 followers
September 8, 2014
I wanted so much more from this book.........but sadly I just did not get it. This could have been a wonderful historical novel but it ended up being a cute love story and perhaps I expected too much from the book in the first place and therefore was disappointed with the read.

I was really looking forward to this book because it was about a period of US history in World War 2 involving the detention of US citizens of Japanese background which I knew very little about and was looking forward to this read.

I really feel the author had the outline of a great plot but was unable to fill out this story as it lacked so much, it needed more emotion, and a lot more punch.

I found the relationship between Henry and Keiko difficult to accept as these were children 12 years old the relationship and emotions are way too advanced for children of this age and I feel that for me this is where the author got it badly wrong.

This was a love story with a few historical facts thrown in to keep you interested but not the read I thought it would be.

Book Club re-read. My thoughts remain the same.
Profile Image for JoAnn/QuAppelle.
383 reviews20 followers
September 17, 2009
I had heard lots about this book, but had not put it on my TBR list. So when I saw the audio at the library, I figured...what the heck, may as well try it! I might not have finished it if I had an alternative book in the car to read. Sometimes the reader annoyed me when he said the main character's (Henry's) words with a Chinese accent (inconsistently at that!) .... since Henry had been born in the US.

I usually do not like when an author switches back and forth from one time period to another, but in this book it "fit".

I think the author should have made Henry and Keiko a bit older...I found it impossible to accept that these "children" had such a relationship. Absolutely implausible. I also found the writing to be clumsy, full of cliches, AND I felt nothing for any of the characters. Usually I feel some connection, but not here.

I found a LOT of inaccuracies in this book and many logical incongrities, but since I was driving while listening, I could not make notes on them...but I groaned a LOT! This author really needed to do better research or have an editor who knows something about history. One of the most egregious errors was when Henry's son was participating in an online grief group...in 1986!!!!! Also in 1986, a rear-projection TV in a nursing home, Someone died in 1986 but was buried in the same cemetery as a celebrity who died in 1993. He said that a Japanese sub DESTROYED an oil refinery in CA, when, in reality, it had barely damaged the refinery. Yeah, right, sure. Many online reviewers, who know a lot more about World War II than I do, really zoned in on all the the mistakes about the war. For example, Japan occupied Canton until 1945 (not 1942 as the author stated), To me, all of these errors of fact are the signs of a lazy writer. I know that with fiction, readers are expected to suspend belief, but not about FACTS!

The author said, at the end, that he did not intend to make this book about the internment camps...but perhaps he should have put that statement at the beginning because I think maybe people were expecting that to be the focus of this book...

Had this been a "paper" book, or if I had had another audiobook available, I probably would have abandoned it after 50 pages -- if I had even gotten that far!
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