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

by Jamie Ford

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,1033371,229 (3.96)406
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)

  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
    Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier (shesinplainview)
  5. 30
    Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston (carport)
  6. 42
    The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller (shesinplainview)
  7. 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.
  8. 10
    Random Winds by Belva Plain (shesinplainview)
  9. 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.
  10. 10
    The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye (shesinplainview)
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» See also 406 mentions

English (335)  German (1)  Italian (1)  Finnish (1)  Swedish (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (340)
Showing 1-5 of 335 (next | show all)
Already having a little background knowledge about the Japanese American Internment camps, I was hoping to learn more about them, and what it was like for those forced to live there while reading this book. Unfortunately I did not gain too much new info from the book. While this is a historical fiction novel, the plot centers mainly around the often strained relationships of fathers and sons, and the first love between a young Chinese American boy and Japanese American girl (who gets sent away to an internment camp). There were some interesting details about the Jazz scene of the Pacific Northwest (Seattle) during this time period that were new to me, which were based on fact.
Part of the book is set in 1986, when most people did not have computers and the internet at their disposal. However, the use of the internet comes up in part of the story, so I found that a little inconsistent with the time period.
It was a good novel. The events in the life of the main character, Henry, both in 1942 and 1986 draw you in, but I didn't think it was great...possibly because I was hoping for a little more "history" and a little less "fiction" though. ( )
  KimDV | Nov 24, 2014 |
Seattle, Japanese Internment camps, Jazz, and childhood love combine to make a memorable novel that tugged at my heartstrings. Henry Lee narrates the story as an older man whose current day issues include a strained relationship with his son and the grief he still feels after the death of his wife. These issues seem to pale in comparison to the drama of his earlier years, which he starts to relate after an incident at the Panama Hotel jogs his memory. Henry's parents were from China and after moving to America they were determined that Henry blend into American society. He is forbidden to speak Chinese at home, which severely strains his relationship with his father. When the country enters World War II the bullying Henry experiences because of his race increase astronomically and he is forced to wear a button that says "I Am Chinese". The bright spots in his life are his friendship with Keiko, the only other Asian student at the private school his parents have sent him too, and with Sheldon a jazz musician who often plays on the streets of his neighborhood. Keiko is Japanese, however, and Henry's time with Keiko is threatened as it becomes clear that her family will be sent away to an internment camp.
I enjoyed this sentimental story and the historical aspects were also interesting. I loved the character of the lunch lady who helps Henry and Keiko and if this was ever made into a movie I would love to see her brought to life on screen. It made for a lovely discussion with my book group. I'd recommend it for anyone in the mood for a sweet love story with younger characters. ( )
  debs4jc | Nov 10, 2014 |
This is another excellent book that our book club read a few months ago. I loved the pace of the book - quiet and peaceful and steeped with memories - like turning the pages of your grandma's photo album. You know there is so much there right under the surface, but the years have tempered it all to a quiet hum. That is this story!

This is Henry's story, a boy in the early late 30s and early 40s. His father is a proud Chinese and sends him (with a button declaring that) to the all white school outside Chinatown in San Francisco. Henry HATES it -he is so lonely and harrassed and alienated - he doesn't fit in the English world or the Chinese one. Finally his life is made better when Keiko begins at the school also. Their friendship grows and grows - but Keiko is Japanese and Henry's father HATES Japanese more than any other group.

The WWII begins. Keiko and her family are threatened and eventually sent to an internment camp. Henry professes his love and promises to wait. And he faithfully does. Sending letters weekly over the years of Keiko's internment. And they make a promise to reunite.

But, Keiko never comes. Henry waits.

But, another love has been growing and eventually Henry chooses second best.

This is a book about hard realities and choices and continuing on. I like that the book begins with Henry as an old man. There is a hotel at the edge of Japantown and artifacts have been found in the basement. Artifacts from Japanese families sent to internment camps and never collected. Henry begin searching for Keiko's life and that is where the story begins.

This is a wonderful book. It respects the hard decisions our government and our families made without oversentimentalizing them. Instead they are treated as a matter of fact, and life continued on. This also demonstrated the deep prejudices on all sides of our country.

I would highly recommend this! ( )
  kebets | Nov 1, 2014 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 335 (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
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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