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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: A Novel » User review

To be savored...

  • Jan 11, 2009
Some books you start and never finish, while others are the kind you race through just to see what happens. Then you have the stories that you find yourself only reading a chapter or two a night in order to prolong the pleasure. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is such a story - you'll find yourself coming back every evening in order to "visit" the characters, similar to stopping by to visit old friends.

The writing is beautiful, and it encourages the slow enjoyment of the story of Henry Lee. The story is told by switching back and forth from the early 1940's, during the height of WWII as the Japanese were being rounded up and sent to camps, and during 1986, when Henry is now a widower. The author, Jamie Ford, did an amazing job of interweaving the history of the camps and their devastation, along with the actual findings of artifacts in the old Panama Hotel in what used to be Japantown, with a wonderful coming-of-age story. Henry (who is Chinese-American) meets Keiko (who is Japanese-American) at the exclusive school they attend as "scholarship" students. Both meet incredible prejudices and strike up a friendship, and eventually fall in love. This was strictly forbidden by Henry's father - a man who still lives in his past in China, and who believes any Japanese are "the enemy". As the round-up of Japanese citizens begins, Henry and Keiko are caught up in the middle and must grow up far too quickly.

True to it's title, the novel is written in such a way that the sweet is always tempered by bitter, which makes the story linger in the heart longer than the typical "happy-ever-after" story. I don't tend to keep a lot of books, as many of them are not worth taking the time for a second read. I can honestly say that I will re-read this story again - and savor it just as much, or more, the second time.

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More Hotel on the Corner of Bitter ... reviews
review by . November 06, 2009
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford
(Ballantine, Paperback, $15.00)      The trade paperback edition of Jamie Ford's debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, hit bookstores on October 5, and within a week had climbed to number 15 on the New York Times bestseller list. By October 23 it had moved up a couple of notches to number 13.      An unusual achievement for a first novel, but Hotel is an unusual novel. It is about the relationship between Henry Lee, who is Chinese, and Keiko …
review by . August 27, 2010
As book titles go, Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is intriguing, but long. I wasn't sure what to make of it when I saw the book lying on a friend's table, but I picked it up (I find it hard to resist books) and opened at a random page. Straight away I was transported to a scene where an elderly man is meeting his son, past and present worlds and cultures colliding, missed chances dancing lightly between the words. I was hooked and quickly made my way back to page …
review by . June 20, 2010
A brilliant debut from author Jamie Ford of a bitter sweet love story between a young Chinese man, Henry, and the love of his life, Japanese-American, Keiko during WW 11, during an unfortunate time when Japanese-American families were shuffled off to internment camps. This unforgettable read explores the age-old conflict between fathers and sons, the discovery and love of first-love and the incredible power of the human heart. Ford simply knocked it out of the ballpark.
review by . May 16, 2009
I will admit that, in the first quarter of this book, my thought was "What is all the hoopla about this book?" I didn't find it THAT engaging to be worthy of all the praise I'd been hearing about it. Thankfully, that thought did not continue for very long.    The story, which takes place both in 1942 and in 1986, follows the relationship of a little Chinese boy (Henry) and a little Japanese girl (Keiko) who meet at a predominantly white school in Seattle, Washington. Though Henry's …
review by . May 13, 2009
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a captivatingly seductive novel of real life. As the author merges the past (1940's) with the present (1986), through the main character of Henry Lee, the reader is taken on a journey that will not soon be forgotten - a journey of the heart.    During the 1940's, Henry is a young man of twelve. He is Chinese and sent to a school of mainly "white" children. As you can imagine, this does not bode well for young Henry. It is not long before …
review by . March 18, 2009
As the only non-White student at an affluent private school in Seattle, Washington, during World War II, Henry is used to being by himself and even has become accustomed to the bullying. But when Keiko arrives to join him as a worker in the school cafeteria, life for Henry as he knows it begins to change. For Keiko is Japanese, and World War II is happening; additionally, Henry comes from a very traditional Chinese family, and his father views the country of Japan as China's mortal enemy. Keiko …
review by . January 27, 2009
I've read some reviews that thought this book was over the top on the sentimental scale, but I truly enjoyed it. This is a moving tale of innocence and love during one of the darker chapters of our nation's history. Watching Henry struggle to reconcile his own feelings with his father's bigotry against the backdrop of the internment process was captivating; I literally couldn't put this book down.    I found it heartbreaking that it was Keiko's family, better assimilated and …
About the reviewer
Beth C. ()
Ranked #270
I'm a SAHM of two, a board member of my son's charter school, and an avid reader. I am also an Amazon Vine member and the wife of a retired Coastie.
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About this book


Ford's strained debut concerns Henry Lee, a Chinese-American in Seattle who, in 1986, has just lost his wife to cancer. After Henry hears that the belongings of Japanese immigrants interned during WWII have been found in the basement of the Panama Hotel, the narrative shuttles between 1986 and the 1940s in a predictable story that chronicles the losses of old age and the bewilderment of youth. Henry recalls the difficulties of life in America during WWII, when he and his Japanese-American school friend, Keiko, wandered through wartime Seattle. Keiko and her family are later interned in a camp, and Henry, horrified by America's anti-Japanese hysteria, is further conflicted because of his Chinese father's anti-Japanese sentiment. Henry's adult life in 1986 is rather mechanically rendered, and Ford clumsily contrasts Henry's difficulty in communicating with his college-age son, Marty, with Henry's own alienation from his father, who was determined to Americanize him. The wartime persecution of Japanese immigrants is presented well, but the flatness of the narrative and Ford's reliance on numerous cultural cliches make for a disappointing read.(Feb.)
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ISBN-10: 0345505336
ISBN-13: 978-0345505330
Author: Jamie Ford
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books
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"To be savored..."
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