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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford

  • Nov 6, 2009
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(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 Okabe, who is Japanese. The story begins in 1986 when Seattle's Panama Hotel is preparing to re-open after having been closed for more than forty years. The personal belongings of many Japanese families are found in the basement - apparently stashed there when the families are relocated to internment camps during WWII. Henry gets permission to go through the treasures, searching for anything that might have belonged to the Okabe family, but in particular for a recording by a local jazz artist that he and Keiko had shared when they were 12 years old. Although Henry married (his wife has recently died) and had a son, the memory of his first love has always haunted him because they were separated when she and her family were sent to a camp. To complicate matters, Henry's father despises the Japanese because they are the enemies of China. He makes Henry wear an “I am Chinese” button so that he won’t be mistaken for the enemy.

This is a love story, but it is also about subtle forms of racism. Henry is not accepted by other Chinese kids because he attends a Caucasian school. Keiko is sent to an internment camp although she is third generation American and doesn’t even speak Japanese. The story shifts deftly between 1986 and the 1940s. Ford’s research and writing style make the war years and his characters come alive. Especially poignant is Ford's depiction of the death of a community after its residents are rounded up and shipped out. An excellent novel. Highly recommended.

Ford himself is of Chinese descent. His great grandfather, Min Chung, who immigrated to the U.S. around 1865, changed his name to the more western-sounding William Ford. For more information about Jamie Ford, visit him at: http://www.jamieford.com.

This review first appeared in the Examiner.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford

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November 06, 2009
Never heard of this book but it sounds interesting! Thanks for the review!
More Hotel on the Corner of Bitter ... reviews
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 …
review by . January 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 …
About the reviewer
David Kubicek ()
Ranked #388
I'm a writer living in Lincoln, Nebraska. I've published several short stories, countless articles, two books (3 if you include the Cliffs Notes on Cather's My Antonia. I am currently writing novels. … more
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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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