Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (Review)

Labels: A Lighter Touch


Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Jamie Ford
290 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
August 2009

Up to the early years of World War II, Seattle, Washington, had two distinct Asian-American communities—Japanese and Chinese. And ne'er the twain shall meet; except in this novel they do.

Henry Lee, when we first meet him in 1986, is a forlorn character—a lonely middle aged Chinese-American recently widowed. When an old hotel unearths a stash of Japanese-American belongings, stowed away since the war, Henry is sure that some part of his past is to be found there.

And so we travel back in time to 1942 when Henry, then 12, has as his only friends Sheldon, a black jazz musician, and Keiko, a lovely young Japanese-American girl. Keiko and Henry are thrown together as outcasts in an all-Caucasian school. But Keiko is also treated as an outcast by Henry's own family: Henry's Chinese-American father hates all things—and all persons—Japanese.

Henry and Keiko's friendship blossoms into love, but eventually the two are separated when Japanese-Americans are rounded up and sent to an internment camp. Forty years later, with his wife Edith gone, Henry embarks on a search for a treasured memento that could connect him with Keiko and Sheldon.

Hotel is Jamie Ford's first novel: it is charming, beautifully written, and offers a personal, albeit fictional, record of Japanese-American internment during the World War II years. This is a terrific book club read.

See our Reading Guide for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

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