One of BookBrowse's Top 3 Favorite Books of 2009
In the opening pages of Jamie Fords 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 Seattles 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 Henrys 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 friendshipand innocent lovethat 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 hotels dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe familys belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voicewords 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.
A video tour through Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
The Panama Hotel (1986)
Old Henry Lee stood transfixed by all the commotion at the Panama Hotel. What had started as a crowd of curious onlookers eyeballing a television news crew had now swollen into a polite mob of shoppers, tourists, and a few punk-looking street kids, all wondering what the big deal was. In the middle of the crowd stood Henry, shopping bags hanging at his side. He felt as if he were waking from a long forgotten dream. A dream hed once had as a little boy.
The old Seattle landmark was a place hed visited twice in his lifetime. First when he was only twelve years old, way back in 1942the war years he liked to call them. Even then the old bachelor hotel had stood as a gateway between Seattles Chinatown and Nihonmachi, Japantown. Two outposts of an old-world conflictwhere Chinese and Japanese immigrants rarely spoke to one another, while their American-born children often played kick the can in the streets together. The hotel...
An exceptionally well-written historical fiction novel with many complex themes intertwined throughout the narrative. Its multifaceted, well-paced plot is sure to put it at the top of many a book club's reading list, and it is likely to attract a wide audience. Highly recommended!
(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).
Full Review (1146 words).
Japanese-Americans in World War II
People of Japanese descent were the victims of racial prejudice from the time they first started to arrive in the USA, and USA-controlled Hawaii, in the mid to late 19th century to work as laborers. By the early 1900s, some Japanese immigrants had started to lease land and sharecrop - California reacted by passing The Alien Land Law of 1913 which banned the purchase of land by Japanese. A little over a decade later, the 1924 US Immigration Act banned immigration from Japan.
By the start of World War II, anti-Japanese sentiment was high, particularly among the farming and fishing communities competing with the Japanese for both jobs and commerce. The panic and ...
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