In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families,left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.
This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While “scholarshipping” at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship–and innocent love–that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.
Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel’s dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice–words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.
I would say that is the best book I have read this year. I have often enjoyed fiction stories that are entwined with a taste of non fiction as well and that is what we have here. What a fascinating way to piece a story together! Set in Seattle during World War II, Jamie Ford has based this book around the details of 1942 and the evacuation of all Japanese ancestry to camps featuring Henry as a young man of 12 years old as well as present age Henry in 1986.
From the very first page I fell in love with this story. I am amazed how little I know of this time period and reading
about what happened to those of Japanese ancestry during the war really was heart wrenching. I could imagine what it felt like to be separated from everything you knew – home, job, life, material possessions… all taken away. All because of your heritage. The characters in Keiko’s family were wonderfully created as loving and positive and they stayed a family through thick and thin. They were portrayed the exact opposite of Henry’s family, and that is a large part of this story.
The Panama Hotel, which is featured in this book – still exists today as a tea house and the in the story, the articles that are mentioned to have been found in this hotel is true and you can go there even today and see many of the items on display.
I could go on and on RAVING about this book. It is a wonderful read as well as a deep and intense look into our history. Highly recommended for historical fiction fans as well as fans of light romance.
My name is James. Yes, I’m a dude.
I’m also the New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet—which was, in no particular order, an IndieBound NEXT List Selection, a Borders Original Voices Selection, a Barnes & Noble Book Club Selection, Pennie’s Pick at Costco, a Target Bookmarked Club Pick, and a National Bestseller. It was also named the #1 Book Club Pick for Fall 2009/Winter 2010 by the American Booksellers Association.
In addition, Hotel has been translated into 17 languages. I’m still holding out for Klingon (that’s when you know you’ve made it).
My next novel, Whispers of a Thunder God, should be hitting shelves sometime in early 2011. And I’m also working on a YA (Young Adult) series that even my agent doesn’t know about…yet.
On the personal side, I’m the proud father of two boys and two girls. Yep, it’s chaos, but the good kind of chaos.
I purchased this book through Amazon.Com