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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (original 2009; edition 2009)

by Jamie Ford

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,9433341,301 (3.96)396
Member:jfaltz
Title:Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Authors:Jamie Ford
Info:Ballantine Books (2009), Paperback, 301 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***1/2
Tags:read 2012

Work details

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (2009)

1940s (27) 2010 (30) 2011 (31) ARC (28) book club (57) China (26) Chinese (49) Chinese Americans (66) family (45) fiction (376) friendship (31) historical (28) historical fiction (216) internment (37) internment camps (53) Japan (38) Japanese (56) Japanese American (30) Japanese Americans (90) Japanese internment (124) jazz (49) Kindle (41) love (40) novel (33) read (40) read in 2009 (25) romance (48) Seattle (184) to-read (123) WWII (322)
  1. 221
    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. 181
    Snow Falling on Cedars 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
    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.
  4. 30
    Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston (carport)
  5. 30
    Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier (shesinplainview)
  6. 10
    The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye (shesinplainview)
  7. 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.
  8. 32
    The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller (shesinplainview)
  9. 00
    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.
  10. 00
    Random Winds by Belva Plain (shesinplainview)
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» See also 396 mentions

English (333)  German (1)  Italian (1)  Finnish (1)  Swedish (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (338)
Showing 1-5 of 333 (next | show all)
I only wish I could have heard the music. ( )
  Jolynne | Jul 4, 2014 |
What a touching story! The love that emerges from innocence and sincerity is pure, simple and precious. Shifting between the past and the present, author Jamie Ford takes us on a journey through Henry Lee's life. Facing racism from both his father and the students at the "white school" he attends, Henry finds himself at a crossroads. He meets Keiko, a Japanese-American students whose parents have also enrolled her into the "white school" in hopes of a better life. Working in the school cafeteria draws them into a friendship and a special bond that only gets stronger with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Henry risks everything to continue his friendship and budding love for Keiko, as she and her family are forced into interment camps outside San Francisco. ( )
  laurensx | Jun 25, 2014 |
3.5 star for the book. Plus 0.5 star for my ability to relate to it.

Let’s start with the love story. It is sweet yet contrived, and neatly wrapped up with a bow on top. It artificially tugs at the heartstrings and certainly annoyed me when Henry chose the simple, innocent Ethel (who might not be so innocent) over the true love of his life, Keiko, because it was the right thing to do. Oh PLEASE, that was too forced; they dated for 5 months!

The Japanese internment – there wasn’t any major element that I didn’t already know. The harassment, the fear, the desperation to protect family and property, the kindness of non-Japanese friends, the actions of the U.S. government, the camp environment – not news but I thought Mr. Ford did an elegant job in incorporating these elements and gave me a strong mental visual with the right human touch to the situation. For me, living in this area, walking along these same streets, wow, it won’t feel the same ever again. Honestly, I had wondered why there weren’t more Japanese stores and restaurants in that area. Now I know! Certainly, going to the Puyallup Fair will not be the same ever again.

So, here’s what surprised me – I was not expecting to relate to the book as much as I did. This book’s descriptions typically centered on the Japanese internment and the love story. The bits about Chinese family, I promise you, is very real. Henry Lee’s family, ignoring the extreme Chinese nationalist behaviors, pretty much describes my own family in my youth. The lack of emotional display (I was not hugged growing up), everything the parents did was done for the children rather we wanted it or not, clothing is always purchased a size or two too big, the expected obedience, etc., etc… I use the term the “in-between generation” to describe those who are entangled by which language to use, the cultural expectations, and what is acceptable in the new world vs. old. I was the first to ‘transition’ in my family, and I resonated with Henry in the same way, trapped between the ideals of his family and his own.

I also had a good lesson on the angst between the Chinese and Japanese in the U.S. I knew about the Chinese Excursion Act. I didn’t realize the workaround of 'importing Japanese labor' who are then allowed to bring brides created a rift of have and have-not (brides, families) amongst these two races.

Add the Seattle Jazz scene of the 1940’s and Sheldon the sax player (my favorite character), this becomes a good read. Oh, I will drop by the Panama Hotel and check out the displays!

Two quotes:

On Love, under any circumstances – so sweet:
“Henry watched and waited until he saw a beautiful slip of a girl walk up the muddy path in a faded yellow dress, red galoshes covered in mud, and a brown raincoat. She stood on the other side of the fence, her smiling face, pale from food poisoning, framed by cold metal and sharp wire. A captured butterfly. Henry smiled and exhaled slowly.”

On Injustice and Contradictions – why the Japanese men were willing to fight for the U.S.:
“Mr. Okabe laughed. ‘Look around you, Henry. It’s not like we’re living on Park Avenue. And anything I could do to help ease the suffering, and even more, the scrutiny and dishonor done to my family, I would do that. Many of us would do that. But what’s more, for some, the only way we can prove we are American is to bleed for America’s cause – despite what’s being done to us. In fact, it’s even more important, in the face of what’s been done.’” ( )
1 vote varwenea | Jun 20, 2014 |
This is a romantic tale of a Chinese American teenager in Seattle in 1942, who falls in love with a Japanese American teenager, whose family is interned after Pearl Harbour. Henry Lee is the only child of Chinese born parents. His father insists that he attend a regular American school where he is the only immigrant of descent. He wears a button stating he is Chinese, and not to be mistaken for Japanese. He is bullied at school and is very unhappy until Keiko Otanabe starts at the school and the two students work in the school cafeteria. They also indulge their love for jazz music and local jazz musicians.
There are flash forwards to 1986 where Henry has an adult son Marty who is finishing his degree at the U. Of Seattle. Henry's wife Ethel, has recently died of cancer so he is now a middle aged widower.
I liked the book at the beginning but grew weary of the relationship between Henry and Keiko, especially once her family was interned. The ending was very predictable. ( )
  MaggieFlo | Jun 18, 2014 |
Japanese internment.

Jamie Ford's debut novel centres around the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Although many of these people had American citizenship and some did not even speak Japanese, they were rounded up and imprisoned in huge Collection Centres, well away from coastal and military areas. From other writing that I have read on the subject, I had the impression that lives in these camps were far more difficult and arduous than we were given to believe in this novel. In Jamie Ford's narrative, the removal of thousands of people, from their homes, with just two suitcases each, seems little more than an inconvenience.

The central character is Henry Lee, a Chinese-American, who meets Keiko Okabe at Rainier Elementary School, where they are both 'scholarshipping'. This seems to involve working in the kitchens and clearing the classrooms at the end of the day, in return for an education amongst white American kids. Henry has a very strange home life, where his father refuses to allow him to speak anything but 'American', even though neither of his parents can understand much of the language. When they discover Henry is best friends with a Japanese girl they are furious.

There are a lot of interesting cultural references pertaining to the treatment of both Chinese and Japanese by the American populace. Both are bullied in school, although Henry is supposedly on the 'right' side. He wears an 'I am Chinese' badge to distinguish him from the Japanese, who are the enemy. Now that he attends a Caucasian school, even the Chinese kids reject him, calling him 'White Devil' as they pass him on the way to school. Henry and Keiko's one friend, Sheldon, a Black-American jazz player represents another persecuted sector of the populace, although he is better off in Seattle than he had been further south.

Although this book has been very well received, I found I was a little disappointed. I find it hard to put my finger on why, but I found the language a bit off, almost as if it was written with modern English to represent a time now long passed. After a while I relaxed into it, but initially I had to skim read or I'd keep sticking on words or phrases that grated with me. There was also a slightly saccharine feel to the story, especially towards the end. Henry's prospective daughter-in-law was definitely super sickly.

For lovers of jazz there are references to the Seattle jazz scene of the time, with some atmospheric club settings. This wasn't enough for me to give it five stars, but it's still worth a read.

Also read:
Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston (3.5 stars)
Requiem by Francis Itani (4 stars) Internment of Japanese Canadians in Canada
Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford (3.5 stars) ( )
1 vote DubaiReader | Jun 12, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 333 (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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Epigraph
My poor heart is sentimental

Not made of wood

I got it bad and that ain't good.

--Duke Ellington, 1941
Dedication
For Leesha, my happy ending
First words
Old Henry Lee stood transfixed by all the commotion at the Panama Hotel.
Quotations
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.
Last words
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Book description
AR 5.7, 15 Pts
Haiku summary

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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:36:40 -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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 9 descriptions

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