Monday, March 15, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Title: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Author: Jamie Ford
Pages: 285
Published: 2009 Ballantine Books
Read For: Monday Night Book Club
Chosen By: Tracy, March 2010
My Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

I have been developing a bit of an aversion to New York Times Bestseller books, in part because I get frustrated with how certain topics get uber-popular (not much of a fad follower, myself) and partly because they can occasionally feel somewhat simple or formulaic.  In this sense Jamie Ford's book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, is a standout, making me rethink my budding prejudice.

Taking place during "the war years" in Seattle, the main characters Henry and Keiko demonstrate a human bond that surpassed political and racial tension.  Lest this sound simple and sweet, let me assure you that it is nothing if not a difficult journey.  Misunderstood at home and at school, with disappointments and challenges left and right, Henry nevertheless strives to be faithful, respectful and honest.  The story filled me with so much compassion and sympathy--for the characters as well for the thousands and thousands (around 110,000) of Japanese Americans that were removed from their homes and placed in internment camps during WWII.  I loved the jazz culture that was woven throughout the story, and thought that the ending nicely balanced out the rest of the book.

For the story of hope, for experience in different cultures, for the glance into history, I would recommend this book.  Simple to read, yet touching and filling all the same.

A clip from page 12:
Young Henry Lee stopped talking to his parents when he was twelve years old.  Not because of some silly childhood tantrum, but because they asked him to.  That was how it felt anyway.  They asked--no, told--him to stop speaking their native Chinese.  It was 1942, and they were desperate for him to learn English.  Which only made Henry more confused when his father pinned a button to his school shirt that read, "I am Chinese."  The contrast seemed absurd.  This makes no sense, he thought.  My father's pride has finally got the better of him.

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