Monday, November 1, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

I recently read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford solely based on the title. I thought it was so clever. This is the story of Henry Lee. A Chinese-American growing up in Seattle during World War II, Henry has no friends, parents who refuse to let him speak Chinese to them even though they cannot speak English, and is the repeat target of bullying by his classmates. He is enrolled in a "white" school and works in the cafeteria to earn his scholarship. One day, Keiko Okabe also comes to work in the cafeteria. She is Japanese and on scholarship as well. Henry and Keiko become fast friends even though, because of his father's hatred for the Japanese, their friendship is forbidden. As their friendship and relationship blossoms, so does the hatred for all things Japanese by many Americans, including families of Japanese descent but who were all born in America, as in the Okabes case. Keiko and her family are soon taken away to an internment camp, much to Henry's horror and dismay.

The story is told by both Henry in the 1940's and Henry as a grown widower in the 1980's. His wife passed away from cancer and his son is in college. Henry has never spoken of Keiko to Marty, his son, but current events regarding the Panama Hotel that houses belongings from the Japanese families sent away so long ago open up a world Henry thought no longer existed to him. As the tale unravels, Henry embarks on a journey to find the missing piece to complete the puzzle of Keiko and her whereabouts.

I really enjoyed this one. I thought the subject matter was interesting, though not technically historical fiction. The back and forth between young Henry and old flowed nicely. It was a pretty fast read but it kept my attention well.

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