Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is the story of Henry, a Chinese boy growing up during World War II. His father is a Chinese nationalist who send Henry to a mostly white school, rather than with other Chinese kids in his neighborhood. He makes Henry speak only in English in the home even though neither parent understands English very well. Henry's father hates the Japanese and makes Henry wear a "I am Chinese" button so that others won't mistake him for Japanese.
Henry is ridiculed by his Chinese peers for going to a while school and by the whites in his school. He feels so alone; his parents hardly communicate with him. His loneliness improves a little when he meets Keiko, a Japanese girl who begins attending his school. At first, he stays away from her because of his father's ant-Japanese sentiments. They soon become friends as they realize they have a lot in common. Their friendship blossoms and soon Henry finds that he is always thinking of Keiko and wanting to be with her. Then, the anti-Japanese sentiment in the country increases and Japanese people are sent away to interment camps. Henry's only friend, Keiko, is taken away from him.
I loved this book so much. There were chapters from 1942-1945 when Henry was a boy of 13-15 years. These chapters were then followed by Henry in 1986. The chapters went back and forth as we saw Henry as a grown man whose wife just passed away and with a college-aged son. I loved going back and forth in time, and found that when I was reading the earlier chapters, I couldn't wait to get to 1986 and when I was in 1986, I couldn't wait to get back in time. The flip flopping of the chapters was a technique that worked well and kept me engaged throughout.
In 1986, in Seattle's Panama Hotel, items were found that had been locked in the basement for 40 years. These items had belonged to Japanese families who'd left them behind when they were taken away. The hotel had been boarded up for 40 years and the finding of the items is what prompts Henry to reminisce about the past.
This was a beautiful love story that showed the bitter with the sweet.