Kathryn's Reviews > Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
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Jul 14, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2011, third-tuesday-book-club
Read from July 14 to 18, 2011

This is the debut novel (2009) of Jamie Ford, the great-grandson of Min Chung, who emigrated to San Francisco from Ksiping, China in 1865, and who promptly adopted the American last name of “Ford”. This is also the book that we will be discussing at tomorrow night’s Third Tuesday Book Club, and I will enjoy discussing this book, set in both 1942 Seattle and in 1986 Seattle, as I very much enjoyed reading it.

In 1986 Seattle, fifty-six year old Henry Lee, the Seattle-born only son of Chinese immigrants from Canton, is passing by the old Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown, but which has been boarded up since World War II. Amid a flurry of excitement, the new owner announces a discovery: apparently several dozen Japanese families had put personal belongings in the basement of the Panama Hotel before their forced removal to internment camps, but had never come back to collect their belonging. The discovery of the belongings of Seattle Japanese families rocks, Henry, who is recently widowed; in 1942, one of his only friends was a Japanese girl named Keiko Okabe (like him, born in Seattle), who was interned along with her family.

The book is told in sequential flashbacks; the story moves forward in time, from 1942 and from 1986; the world of wartime Seattle (paranoid from the attack on Pearl Harbor) is seen through the eyes of twelve-year-old Henry, whose parents refuse to let him speak Cantonese in their home and who have gotten him admitted on a scholarship basis into an all-white prep school where he is the only Asian student, and where he spends the lunch hour working in the lunchroom serving out food to the same classmates who waylay him to beat him up before and after school.

This novel is an easy read, and an uncomfortable window into the paranoia that can grip an entire nation in time of war or stress; it is also a love story, both for Henry’s personal life and for his love of Seattle jazz.
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