Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

I recently read the book Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. You've probably seen this book on display wherever you shop, or maybe you've heard about it as a book club favorite. Imagine my shock when I logged into the Hennepin County library system and discovered it was available with no wait at the library across the street from my apartment building. Score!
One of the reasons I was so excited to read this book is because the story reminded me of the themes in Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson, which is one of my very favorite books ever. Once I held the book in my hands, I began to wonder if maybe I would find it too similar to Snow Falling on Cedars. I was certainly wrong! One theme that is present in both is the separation of two young people in love by the policy of Japanese internment during World War II. This book tells the story both in the past and the present, not through flashbacks or storytelling.

The protagonist is Henry Lee, who we meet as a 12 year old boy and as a 50-something widower. At 12, Henry is the only student of Chinese heritage attending a prestigious white private school in Seattle. Shortly thereafter, he meets Keiko, a fellow classmate who is second-generation Japanese. Henry and Keiko grow closer but are ultimately separated by the internment of Keiko and her family during the war. The book also takes place in 1986, when Henry is a widower. At that time, a large store of belongings of interned Japanese families is discovered in the basement of a hotel in what was formerly the Japanese part of town. Henry winds up searching through these belongings for connection with his dear old friend Keiko. I won't share any more details with you, as this is a plot driven book and I don't want to give anything else away!

I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it. I'm often not that excited about fiction, but I think this author did a great job sharing some facts and social issues that were present during the war, so I was definitely intrigued. I also thought the plot moved along well with just the right amount of detail. It turned out to be a pretty quick read. I also thought that the narrator's voice was unique: it's not every day I hear about the experiences of Chinese people in America during the period of prejudice against Japanese Americans. You should definitely read it - if you can get your hands on a copy!

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