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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by…

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (2009)

by Jamie Ford

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,3333511,142 (3.96)430
  1. 231
    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (hoosieriu97)
    hoosieriu97: This story is beautifully written about the same time period.
  2. 211
    Snow Falling on Cedars: A Novel by David Guterson (JGoto, shesinplainview)
    JGoto: This is also set in Washington state with a well-written story dealing with racism against Japanese Americans after World War Two.
  3. 40
    Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier (shesinplainview)
  4. 40
    When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka (pdebolt)
    pdebolt: This is also a story about an American family of Japanese descent sent to an interment camp.
  5. 30
    Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston (carport)
  6. 10
    China Dolls by Lisa See (kqueue)
    kqueue: Both books deal with Asian-Americans at the onset of World War II and the injustices they suffered along with the tensions between Japanese-Americans and Chinese-Americans.
  7. 10
    The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (SqueakyChu)
    SqueakyChu: Both books give a picture of the people of Japanese descent living in America during World War II.
  8. 10
    Random Winds by Belva Plain (shesinplainview)
  9. 10
    The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye (shesinplainview)
  10. 10
    Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas (tahcastle)
    tahcastle: Both stories explain the Japanese Internment camps. Tallgrass was the town's views of the Japanese moving into their neighborhood. Hotel explained the moving of the Japanese out of their homes into the camp.
  11. 00
    The Japanese Lover: A Novel by Isabel Allende (Blogletter)
  12. 00
    Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole (cbl_tn)
    cbl_tn: Both books focus on young lovers separated by war.
  13. 46
    The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller (shesinplainview)

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» See also 430 mentions

English (350)  German (1)  Italian (1)  Finnish (1)  Swedish (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (355)
Showing 1-5 of 350 (next | show all)
Well, I didn't have high hopes for this one, and it exceeded them somewhat. I gave this book to my MIL a couple years ago, thinking it sounded like her kind of story, and that it might be a gentle antidote to her West Coast childhood prejudices against Chinese immigrants. I'm not sure how well that last part worked, but she did bring the book back to me, saying it was "a cute story" ("cute" is high praise from her) and that I should read it. I have to say, it is a decent story, fairly well told, and by gum the last few chapters squeezed a few tears out of my jaded ducts. It has some first novel issues, and one glaring anachronism that should never have been overlooked. It's a bit lightweight for quite a while, given the subject matter, and I almost Pearl-ruled it at page 50, and again at 100. I persisted because I really liked the premise, and wanted to give the author a chance to develop it, which eventually, he did. It's fundamentally a Romeo & Juliet set-up, involving Henry Lee, an American teenager of Chinese descent, and Keiko Okabe, an American teenager of Japanese descent, set in the troubling circumstances of WWII on the US West Coast. The difference is that Keiko's family is accepting and supportive of both friendship and romance. We experience their poignant story from two perspectives; the contemporary 1942/1945 one and the retrospective 1986 one. There are elements of generational conflict (Henry's very traditional parents, who want him to "be an American" but cannot accept all of what that entails), as well as cultural conflict (the internment of Japanese American citizens, the ignorance of white American kids to whom all non-whites are "Japs" or "niggers", the Chinese hatred of Japanese imperialism). The writing is a bit unsophisticated in places, there's a lack of "feel" to the time and setting, and there's too much telling when showing would have made better reading, but I admire the way Ford (a descendant of Chinese immigrants himself) pulls it all together, avoiding that anti-climactic collapse that so often happens at the end of first novels, and as I said, I surprised myself by being a bit more caught up in the characters by the end than I had realized. Still, it's no Snow Falling on Cedars, and if you haven't read either one, give your time to Guterson.
Review written in 2013 ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Nov 24, 2015 |
This was a quick and satisfying novel which tells a Romeo and Juliet type love story between a Chinese boy and a Japanese girl, the only Asian students in an all white Seattle school in the 1940's. Henry, whose father is happy that his son is "scholar-shipping" in an American school, is embarrassed by the pin that he makes him wear each day - I am Chinese. However given the time period and his own hatred of the Japanese that are at war with his homeland, we understand why he forces this on his only son. The only bright spot to Henry's isolated, bullied school day is a new girl, Keiko, who joins him in the cafeteria where they both work for their privilege of being there. They bond over their similar fates and over the jazz music that Sheldon plays. Sheldon is an older black sax player who has befriended Henry as he plays on the corner for tips. Sheldon gets his big break when he is invited to play with a famous jazz pianist and this event becomes the first date for the young couple. Though very young, the two feel a real connection.
The narrative alternates between 1942, where the evacuation of the Japanese to interment camps challenges the true feelings that the two share, to the 1980's where a fifty year old Henry has just buried his wife, Ethel, after her long battle with cancer. Since his wife's name was not Keiko and since she has passed away, we realize there is more to tell about Henry and Keiko.
Ford also explores the relationships of father's and sons, fathers that don't communicate and sons that try to go their own way. Henry's clash with his father, who did what he could to ruin the budding relationship is juxtaposed with Henry's relationship with his own son Marty. All in all the author did a nice job telling a pleasant story with characters that were likable and a backdrop that was worth reading. I wasn't wowed by the writing but appreciate a story well told. ( )
  novelcommentary | Nov 5, 2015 |
Hands down, one of my favorite books OF ALL TIME!! ( )
  idajo2 | Nov 3, 2015 |
Haunting, bittersweet, frightening -- you pick. This little book packs a big wallop. ( )
  VashonJim | Sep 5, 2015 |
A bitter sweet historical novel of love between two outcasts, one Chinese, the other Japanese, struggling to survive against the impossible backdrop of WWII and the interment of the Japanese. ( )
  snash | Aug 15, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 350 (next | show all)
While the novel is less perfect as literature than John Hamamura's Color of the Sea (Thomas Dunne, 2006), the setting and quietly moving, romantic story are commendable.
added by Katya0133 | editSchool Library Journal, Angela Carstensen (May 1, 2009)
Although Ford does not have anything especially novel to say about a familiar subject (the interplay between race and family), he writes earnestly and cares for his characters, who consistently defy stereotype.
added by Katya0133 | editBooklist, Kevin Clouther (Nov 15, 2008)
A timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don't repeat those injustices.
added by Katya0133 | editKirkus Reviews (Oct 15, 2008)
In his first novel, award-winning short-story writer Ford expertly nails the sweet innocence of first love, the cruelty of racism, the blindness of patriotism, the astonishing unknowns between parents and their children, and the sadness and satisfaction at the end of a life well lived.
added by Katya0133 | editLibrary Journal, Joanna M. Burkhardt (Oct 1, 2008)
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My poor heart is sentimental

Not made of wood

I got it bad and that ain't good.

--Duke Ellington, 1941
For Leesha, my happy ending
First words
Old Henry Lee stood transfixed by all the commotion at the Panama Hotel.
Henry stared in silence as a small parade of wooden packing crates and leathery suitcases were hauled upstairs, the crowd marveling at the once-precious items held within: a white communion dress, tarnished silver candlesticks, a picnic basket – items that had collected dust, untouched, for forty-plus years. Saved for a happier time that never came.
…wandering over to the Panama Hotel, a place between worlds when he was a child, a place between times now that he was a grown man.
The years had been unkind. … Like so many things Henry had wanted in life – like his father, his marriage, his life – it had arrived a little damaged. Imperfect. But he didn’t care, this was all he’d wanted. Something to hope for, and he’d found it. It didn’t matter what condition it was in.
“With that many people, what’s to keep you from just taking over the camp?”

"You know what keeps us from doing just that? Loyalty. We’re still loyal to the United States of America. Why? Because we too are Americans. We don’t agree, but we will show our loyalty by our obedience. Do you understand, Henry?"
Henry had much to do. … He’d do what he always did, find the sweet among the bitter.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345505344, Paperback)

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.

Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

"Sentimental, heartfelt….the exploration of Henry’s changing relationship with his family and with Keiko will keep most readers turning pages...A timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don’t repeat those injustices."-- Kirkus Reviews

“A tender and satisfying novel set in a time and a place lost forever, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet gives us a glimpse of the damage that is caused by war--not the sweeping damage of the battlefield, but the cold, cruel damage to the hearts and humanity of individual people. Especially relevant in today's world, this is a beautifully written book that will make you think. And, more importantly, it will make you feel."
-- Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain

“Jamie Ford's first novel explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans in the Seattle area during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love. An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut.”
-- Lisa See, bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:35 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Set in the ethnic neighborhoods of Seattle during World War II and Japanese American internment camps of the era, this debut novel tells the heartwarming story of widower Henry Lee, his father, and his first love Keiko Okabe.

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