Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Book Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet has been recommended on countless blogs over the past several months, and I finally got my hands on it at my favorite used bookstore.

The story focuses on Henry Lee, both in his early 50s and flashing back to him as a 12-year-old Chinese-American boy in Seattle during WW2. Present-day-Henry, a recent widower, stumbles upon trunks stored in the basement of the Panama Hotel, filled with items belonging to Japanese families who were sent to internment camps. From here we flash back to the story of twelve-year-old Henry, whose father despises the Japanese, as he falls in love with a young Japanese girl, Keiko.

The racial tension in the book—between whites, Japanese, Chinese and blacks—is wonderfully portrayed. I enjoyed experiencing the relationships between Henry and other characters—his father, mother, his son, Keiko, the musician Sheldon, his classmates. I thought the dynamic between Henry and his son was particularly well done.

I really liked the book. It's a light read, especially for such a disturbing subject as the internment camps. I would say that I loved the book except for one thing that kept bugging me: Henry's age. This was a huge stumbling block for me in really accepting the story. I have a 12-year-old right now, and I just couldn't accept the gravity of this love story through the eyes of a 12-year-old. Why wouldn't the author bump Henry and Keiko up into being 15 or 16 year olds? There is only one part of the story that I see where the age makes a difference (Henry's father wants him to go to China for school when he turns 13), but this part could easily have been dropped from the book.

Anyway, it was an enjoyable and fast read, and I think it would make a great movie. I bet there is one in the works.

While Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is more about this Chinese-American boy's perspective, it does touch on life in a Japanese internment camp quite a bit. If you are interested in this little-known part of American history, I'd recommend any of the books listed below. I particularly loved Otsuka's.

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas
The Magic of Ordinary Days by Ann Creel
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
Yokohama, California by Toshio Mori
Citizen 13360 by Mine Okubo
Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

(A Few of the Many) Other Bloggers' Reviews of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet:
The Book Lady's Blog
Nerd's Eye View
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Historical Tapestry
A Novel Menagerie (for me, she hits the nail on the head with this statement: "Neither outstanding nor poor, I think that this book hits that 'sweet spot' in the middle of the spectrum.")
Word Lily
The Bluestocking Society
Melody's Reading Corner
At Home with Books
A Comfy Chair and a Good Book
Devourer of Books
Fashionista Piranha
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?
In the Shadow of Mt. TBR
Medieval Bookworm
The Novel World
Stephanie’s Written Word


Jennifer (Crazy-for-Books) said...

I also really loved this book. It's one of my favorites this year. I never really thought about his age too much!

And, I agree that this would make a great movie!!

diaryofaneccentric said...

I liked this one, too. The age thing didn't bother me because Henry didn't fit in and didn't really have any friends so it didn't surprise me that his feelings for his only true friend turned to love rather quickly.

I hope it's okay to link to your review on War Through the Generations.


Judylynn said...

I'm glad to hear you liked it. I read it back when it was new and I wanted to cry during parts of it. I also decided to learn more about this subject that disturbs me.

Alison said...

Thanks for this review. I really want to read this book. Glad you liked it.

ANovelMenagerie said...

You're too nice! Thanks for the shout-out!