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).
I’m an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and a survivor of Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp.
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.
My Amazon Rating
I purchased this book through Amazon.Com
46 thoughts on “The Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet by Jamie Ford”
Best book you’ve read this year, huh? For most of us, that wouldn’t mean very much, but in your case, it’s significant! I’m sure you’ve already completed dozens. Thanks for the review– I wouldn’t have given this a second look otherwise.
Laura this book has such a wonderful story. I really liked the history of the book and the characters.
This is on my list for sure. I love the cover of it and the story looks incredible.
It is a great cover Lydia!
I have this one on my shelf waiting for me. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it and I really want to read it right away. As soon as my book club choice is read, I will start on this one.
Oh good Jennifer! Let me know when you have read it – I would love to read your review!
Yay, glad you hear you liked this one! I read it in January and really enjoyed it too.
I loved it wordlily, it is a sad story with a happy ending.
I loved this book too. I’m excited that the author will be in Tucson next month for our Book Festival. Maybe he’ll read a passage from it in Klingon!!!!
rhapsodyinbooks that would be so awesome! I looked on his site but didnt see any Minnesota stops coming up.
I haven’t looked closely at this book before, but since it was your favorite of the year, I need to get my hands on a copy!It sounds terrific.
Stephanie let me know when you have read it – I want to read your thoughts on this book.
Ooh, this one gave me the chills, as you described the opening scenes! I’ve been seeing this one around the web.
I am fascinated by that time period, anyway, because I was a child during the end of that war and afterwards. I have memories of standing near a a barbed wire fence, peering through and seeing prisoners. Right next door to my grandmother’s house! At the time, I didn’t understand what was going on, but I felt compelled to look through that fence!
I simply must read this book!
Oh my gosh Laurel! So where did you grow up that you witnessed this?
Wow, thanks for the great review! I put this book on my TBR a while ago, but I’m heading over to my library website now to request a copy 😉
Oh good Dana! I think this is a must read and be sure to read Jamie’s comments in the back of the book too. I love the story behind the story.
I love it that he went to bookwriting book camp.
Me too Esme! I want to do that!
I need to get this book. I’ve read so many wonderful things about it. Thanks for the review!
Sure Michelle – I highly recommend it!
I like this book a lot as well when I read it last year. Thanks for posting all the additional author info — interesting!
diane I just loved the book and I am still following up on info on it. 🙂
I’ve been wanting to read. Love your review!!
Thanks Vicki! 🙂
Great review!! I’m looking forward to reading this one too!
I loved this one too. I was sobbing at the end!!!
I cried too Staci!
I loved this book, too. I’m hoping to be able to convince my book club to read it later this year. My copy if chock full of sticky tabs of things I’d love to discuss!
Me too Lisa! I took a lot of notes on this one. 🙂
Even though I knew what you thought of the book I still have been waiting for your review to pop up. Great review Sheila!
This has been on everyone’s blog so far I believe but it just sounded too sad for me. I’m curious about that YA series…. hope it gets off the ground!
I am curious about that too Ladytink – it would be so different from what he just wrote here.
I’m getting this book asap. I love stories like this , probably because I’m part Japanese and I’m also from Seattle. Can’t wait to read it. Thanks for the review!
Natalie I bet you will really find this book interesting!
Wow–what an amazing review! Thanks for the kind words…
(And Happy Valentines Day, also Chinese New Year…)
Thanks for stopping by Jamie – it was a real pleasure to read your book.
REALLY enjoyed your book. Have you read “Snow Falling on Cedars”? It seems almost like a prequel to your book.
The more people learn of this shameful episode of American history, the better. I could say it would prevent us from repeating the error, but we all know that won’t happen. I am always amazed how little many people know of their country’s history. The schools do not do a good job of giving enough information on some of the small details .
Librarypat that is so true – I actually learn so much through my reading – even fiction reads like this one. It really makes me want to dig deeper into the subject.