HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET
Jamie Ford has made a name for himself in the literary world on his first try. HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET is a remarkable, must-read novel. A love story, a family saga, a story of growing up in America during World War II, a story of America’s shame—take your choice. You will find all this and more in Mr. Ford’s novel.
The story alternates smoothly between 1942 when Henry Lee is 12 years old to the 1980’s when Henry is dealing with the death of his wife from cancer. Opening in 1986 and set in Seattle at the Panama Hotel, the story tells of the discovery of junk to some, but treasures to others, found in the basement. Henry is able to find some treasures that once belonged to his friend and young love, Keiko.
The Panama had been in a part of town known as Japantown back in the early 1940’s. Everything found was important to the people living back then. In order for those people to try and prove their loyalty to
The novel tells of Henry as a youth and his relationship with his parents. Henry grew up during wartime and experienced rationing, blackouts, battle reports and all that became a part of his daily life. His parents despised the Japanese because they had invaded China and the Lees were Chinese. Henry was made to wear a button that said he was Chinese. A student at an all white school, Henry was on a kind of scholarship in that his tuition was covered by the fact he worked in the cafeteria during lunch and was a janitor for the school after hours. Alone, bullied and viewed with contempt by the other students, Henry is thrilled when a Japanese American student enters the school and they become very good friends. Keiko’s parents wind up in the internment camps, and she and Henry confide in one another and soon are very close friends. This is a relationship that angers Henry’s father. It creates problems and great tension in Henry’s home.
Henry’s view of the war, his country, his parents, and even the world changed. Henry is drawn into the Japanese section of Seattle called Nihonmachi, or later Japantown. Leaving his area of Chinatown to go into Keiko’s environment enables him to see things differently. In Japantown, Henry is seen to be part of the enemy group by its inhabitants. He experiences racism first hand once again but this time, not from the white students at his school but rather people who look very much like him.
A caring, but wiser, man, adult Henry is much the same as he was as a youth. He has just lost his wife to cancer and tells of how he even left work to care for her full time. Henry understands the relationship he had with his father and wants better for him and his son, Marty. This is not an easy task as Henry still deals with being a Chinese-American while Marty has never known anything but to be American. The chance discovery of items from the Panama Hotel inspires Henry to share the story of Keiko with his son. Henry hopes to improve their relationship as he explains their connection to jazz. When they were young, he and Keiko used to sneak out to local jazz clubs.
Henry is a good man and loved his wife but yet there was always a part of him that was linked inexplicably to the past and Keiko. He thinks that this link will help him reconnect with Marty. How Henry does this and how the things he finds at the
Submitted originally to Curled Up with a Good Book by Karen Haney, February, 2009