Thursday, July 27, 2017

This Day In History ... Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - Jamie Ford

Summary: 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.
(Summary and cover photo from of

Heather's Review:
 Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a beautifully crafted novel which speaks of the segregation that took place after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It addresses the difficulties of being of Asian decent during this period of time and the prejudices that arose. The novel also depicts a rocky relationship between a father and his son - an indestructible wall of secrets built between the two. Yet at it's heart Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a love story.

Jamie Ford's writing took my breath away time and time again with his tale laced with symbolism. My chest tightened as I watched one season of a life come to an undesirable end and another unpredictable future begin. My eyes were far from dry as I savored the final pages. Despite all the war and torment that takes place during this book there is a feeling of total and utter peace as the last word is read and the cover is closed.

I was fortunate enough to attend one of Jamie Ford's book talks and signings. He is a very charismatic man with a wonderful sense of humor, yet remains humble. It just made me love this book (now signed!) more.

Her Rating: 5 Stars
(I did catch the discrepancy between the time frame of the novel and the technology written about but I was so utterly engrossed in the tale that it did not distract from the story line for me. So it remains a 5.)

To sum it up: A perfect balance of fact and fiction wound together to create a beautiful love story.

Mindy's Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is the quiet and expressive story of Henry Lee, told in two alternating parts—Henry as young boy and Henry as an elderly man. Young Henry lives in Seattle during WWII, and though he is Chinese, contends daily with the shameful racism brought about by the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and a father who holds a deep-seated hatred of the Japanese. His father longs for his native China, but desperately wants his son to be seen as an American. Old Henry tells his story with a voice of experience and wisdom. While mourning the loss of his wife Ethel, and confronting some of the same issues he and his father faced with his own son, Marty, Henry keeps can't help but think about the past and what could have been. Through the eyes of young and old, a beautifully rich story unfolds. It is young love, hateful actions, familial betrayal, and undying loyalty, all set to the beat of Seattle’s famous jazz scene.

It seems cliché to use the word bittersweet to describe this particular novel, but in the end the word is fitting, and perfectly describes my feelings as I read. I didn’t always know what was going to happen, but was content to go where the story led. If the ending tied up a little too neatly, I found I didn’t mind at all. I closed this book with a contented sigh and the feeling that all was as it should be.

Her Rating: 4.5 Stars. For the sensitive reader: I really can’t remember anything offensive. Of course, I’m a bit batty right now, so that might not mean a whole lot.

Sum it up: A beautifully written love story that should not be missed.

Average Rating: 4.75 Stars


Jamie said...

Thanks for all the stars! So glad you enjoyed spending time with Henry & Keiko.


P.S. My new book comes out Sept.12 :)

MindySue said...

Thank you so much, Jamie! Sorry it took me so long to see your comment. I've been eyeballing "Love and Other Consolation Prizes for a While" so this must be a sign that I better get on it!


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