Saturday, June 2, 2012

Book Review: "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" by Jamie Ford

One day in Seattle, Henry Lee walks by the old Panama Hotel, which used to be the gateway to the city's Japantown. Long boarded-up, the hotel is finally being renovated to its former glory by new owners. But there is a great deal of commotion, as construction workers uncover the belongings of many Japanese families, who stored their possessions in the hotel before they were shipped off to internment camps during World War II. This discovery awakens memories Henry has long kept at bay, and although Henry had a long, happy marriage to Ethel, and raised one son, Marty, Ethel's recent death leaves him more susceptible to reminiscences.

Growing up in Seattle in the 1940s, Henry's loyalist Chinese father harbored strong hatred against the Japanese. Henry was a "scholarshipping" student at the all-White Rainier Elementary School, ridiculed and reviled by his classmates, and unable to communicate with his parents, who insisted he speak only English despite their only understanding Cantonese. One day during his lunchtime duties, he meets Keiko, a Japanese student, and the two of them become friends, and allies against all of the hatred they face. As they grow closer, their relationship must battle not only the prejudices of Henry's father, but the realities of war, as Keiko and her family are sent to an internment camp. But Henry refuses to give up on Keiko, even as circumstances around him try and force him to.

I'll admit it, this book has sat on my bookshelf since it was released a few years ago, but when I got ready to fly cross-country, I picked it up as my book to read when I was unable to use my Kindle on the plane. (I'm a voracious reader; that's what you do.) I'm glad to say this book was well worth the wait. It is a poignant story of the poignancy of first love, the bravery needed to stand up for who you are, and the realization that your parents aren't always right. While the book was a little predictable, I didn't care; I found myself completely hooked on the story and wondering how it would unfold. (And I'm not ashamed to admit the book choked me up a bit, although I wasn't feeling well on the plane.) If you haven't read this, definitely do.

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