Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

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.

The above synopsis taken from "Reading Group Guides"

We, the bookies, recently read this for our October book club.  I wasn't able to be at book club due to my travels this past week, but I started and finished the book during the Vegas trip.  I thought I was going to get more than one book done, but I enjoyed Vegas and hence wasn't reading a whole lot.  However, this book was a good one.  It has some serious subject matter: love, family, racism, World War II- just to name a few.  However, the story flowed very easily and the author did a wonderful job with character development.  I was amazed to find out that this author didn't live in Seattle where the majority of the book takes place, but instead lives in New York City.  This amazed me because I felt like he wrote about the environment around the main people in his story like he knew them, knew the places, knew the architecture of the building's, etc.  I highly recommend this book.  It was a great read!

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