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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet Paperback – October 6, 2009
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"Mesmerizing and evocative, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a tale of conflicted loyalties, devotion, as well as a vibrant portrait of Seattle's Nihonmachi district in its heyday."
-- Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants
“A tender and satisfying novel set in a time and a place lost forever, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet gives us a glimpse of the damage that is caused by war--not the sweeping damage of the battlefield, but the cold, cruel damage to the hearts and humanity of individual people. Especially relevant in today's world, this is a beautifully written book that will make you think. And, more importantly, it will make you feel."
--Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain
“Jamie Ford's first novel explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans in the Seattle area during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love. An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut.”
–Lisa See, bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
"Sentimental, heartfelt novel portrays two children separated during the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. In 1940s Seattle, ethnicities do not mix. Whites, blacks, Chinese and Japanese live in separate neighborhoods, and their children attend different schools. When Henry Lee’s staunchly nationalistic father pins an “I am Chinese” button to his 12-year-old son’s shirt and enrolls him in an all-white prep school, Henry finds himself friendless and at the mercy of schoolyard bullies. His salvation arrives in the form of Keiko, a Japanese girl with whom Henry forms an instant—and forbidden—bond. The occasionally sappy prose tends to overtly express subtleties that readers would be happier to glean for themselves, but the tender relationship between the two young people is moving. The older Henry, a recent widower living in 1980s Seattle, reflects in a series of flashbacks on his burgeoning romance with Keiko and its abrupt ending when her family was evacuated. A chance discovery of items left behind by Japanese-Americans during the evacuation inspires Henry to share his and Keiko’s story with his own son, in hopes of preventing the dysfunctional parent-child relationship he experienced with his own father. The major problem here is that Henry’s voice always sounds like that of a grown man, never quite like that of a child; the boy of the flashbacks is jarringly precocious and not entirely credible. Still, the exploration of Henry’s changing relationship with his family and with Keiko will keep most readers turning pages while waiting for the story arc to come full circle, despite the overly flowery portrait of young love, cruel fate and unbreakable bonds. A timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don’t repeat those injustices." - Kirkus Reviews
"Fifth-grade scholarship students and best friends Henry and Keiko are the only Asians in their Seattle elementary school in 1942. Henry is Chinese, Keiko is Japanese, and Pearl Harbor has made all Asians-even those who are American born-targets for abuse. Because Henry's nationalistic father has a deep-seated hatred for Japan, Henry keeps his friendship with and eventual love for Keiko a secret. When Keiko's family is sent to an internment camp in Idaho, Henry vows to wait for her. Forty years later, Henry comes upon an old hotel where the belongings of dozens of displaced Japanese families have turned up in the basement, and his love for Keiko is reborn. In his first novel, award-winning short-story writer Ford expertly nails the sweet innocence of first love, the cruelty of racism, the blindness of patriotism, the astonishing unknowns between parents and their children, and the sadness and satisfaction at the end of a life well lived. The result is a vivid picture of a confusing and critical time in American history. Recommended for all fiction collections." - Library Journal
Advance praise for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
“Jamie Ford’s novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is deeply informed by an intimate knowledge of Seattle during World War II, of the tribulations of Asian peoples during the time of Japanese internment, and even of the Seattle jazz scene of that time. His story of an innocent passion that crosses racial barriers–and then, of the whole life of a man who forsook the girl he loved–is told with an artistic technique that makes emotion inevitable.”
–Louis B. Jones, author of Particles and Luck
“I loved it! Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a beautiful and tender masterpiece. A book everyone will be talking about, and the best book you’ll read this year.”
–Anne Frasier, USA Today bestselling author of Garden of Darkness
“Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet tells a heartwarming story of fathers and sons, first loves, fate, and the resilient human heart. Set in the ethnic neighborhoods of Seattle during World War II and Japanese American internment camps of the era, the times and places are brought to life by the marvelous, evocative details.”
–Jim Tomlinson, winner of the 2006 Iowa Short Fiction Award and author of Things Kept, Things Left Behind
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Jamie Ford is the great-grandson of Nevada mining pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated from Kaiping, China, to San Francisco in 1865, where he adopted the Western name “Ford,” thus confusing countless generations. Ford is an award-winning short-story writer, an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and a survivor of Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. Having grown up near Seattle’s Chinatown, he now lives in Montana with his wife and children.
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Henry's parents do not know at first that his best friend is Japanese, but when they finally learn of this, they turn their backs on him though they don't kick him out of the house. Thus begins a long, lonely period when Henry merely exists and lives in a silent household. When Keiko's family is sent off to the camps, Henry is shocked and saddened, but vows to never forget her. He somehow scrapes together enough money to get on a bus and ride all the way to Idaho to see her. They vow to write to each other, but the letters over the 2+ years that she is in the camp are sporadic and his final letter is returned, marked addressee unknown.
Years later in 1986, Henry becomes aware of the possessions from some of the Japanese families, stored in a nearby old boarded up hotel. This opens up the memories from the 1940's and begins a search for the truth of what happened in the 1940's. There are many bitter, sweet and poignant memories and scenes in this story.
The novel struck a chord with me because I have visited Manzanar and have known people who had been held in the camps. It's important to remember and read about these stories. Too many people aren't even aware of the tragedy of the incarceration of so many innocent citizens during the war.
Well I'm sure Jamie Ford might have read that book, but HOTCOBAS has it's differences. For one thing, Henry Lee, who falls in love with a Japanese girl at the ripe old age of twelve, is a Chinese American. This is a love story but it's also about Japanese internment camps and the generation gap. Henry's parents send him to an American school where he and Keiko Okabe are the only Orientals. Henry, especially is mercilessly bullied.
Henry is not allowed to speak Cantonese in his home, despite the fact that his parents don't understand English, and his father makes him wear an "I am Chinese" button. He and Keiko work in the kitchen during lunch hour where he "befriends" the gruff lunch lady, Mrs. Beatty. She will play a major role in the story later.
Henry's father is from northern China where the Japanese persecuted his people and when he learns about Henry's relationship with Keiko he won't speak to him anymore.
Henry knows he won't be able to eat his lunch at school; he gives it to a street musician, Spencer, who is just beginning to make inroads in the Seattle jazz scene. They establish a lifelong friendship. A black man and a Chinese boy share the same heart, Ford seems to be saying.
Ford hops between WWII and the 1980's where Henry and his son Marty have a similar generation gap in some respects, although nothing like Henry and his father.
The Panama Hotel figures strongly in the story, hence the title. It's on the border between the Chinese and Japanese settlements in Seattle. We're expecting Keiko to be sent to an Internment camp eventually, and she leaves something important at the hotel.
So the big question throughout the novel is if Henry and Keiko will ever get together. The odds seem stacked against them, but Marty has a surprise in store for his father.