Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Book: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Author: Jamie Ford

Short Summary:
Alternating between 1942 and 1986, this book is the story of Henry Lee, a Chinese-American boy who is dealing with his feelings for a Keiko Okabe, a Japanese-American girl. Henry is sent to an all white school by his parents where he meets and quickly befriends the only other Asian American, Keiko. Their friendship develops quickly, but is forbidden by Henry’s family because of Keiko’s Japanese heritage. The world is at war and the Japanese are the enemy to both China and America. This book explores the unlikely relationship between Henry and Keiko, as America becomes less accepting of Japanese Americans and eventually puts them in internment camps. We are also brought into Henry’s life 40 years after the war, as he deals with the loss of his wife Ethel to a long battle with cancer. Henry’s relationship with his son, Marty, is somewhat strained and he is working to repair it. Henry mourns Ethel and also can’t help think about the girl, Keiko, who disappeared so many years ago.

My Thoughts:
This is a story that deals with an important and shameful topic in American history, Japanese internment during World War II. While the topic is a heavy one, the story deals with it in a somewhat simplistic and lighthearted way.

The relationship between Henry and Keiko was sweet, but sometimes too much so. It was almost too perfect which made it feel unrealistic. I did like the idea of their forbidden love, I’m just not sure I totally bought it. Their relationship, and the story in general, felt somewhat predictable. I was also turned off by one-dimensional characters that did not help the story flow, such as the stereotypical bully, Chaz.

That’s not to say that there weren’t  heartfelt, touching moments throughout this story. There definitely were. I actually found the friendship between Henry and his jazz playing older buddy Sheldon to be my favorite relationship in the story. Although, again, somewhat unrealistic, I loved how two outsiders like Henry and Sheldon developed an unlikely friendship. Sheldon didn’t say all that much, but the words that came out of his mouth were always wise ones that Henry could learn from.

The idea of belonging or being outcast were prevalent themes throughout this book. I found it interesting the way that Henry was an outsider to both his white classmates at the school he attended, yet also to Chinese children because he attended an all white school. There was no place that he really belonged, not even in his own home. This was one reason that the friendship/relationship between Henry and Keiko was able to develop the way it did, especially while being the only Asians at an otherwise all white school. Even though Keiko was Japanese and therefore the “enemy” it seemed she had a much stronger sense of belonging. She belonged both with her family and the rest of the Japanese who were forced into the internment camp.

I did find some historical inaccuracies throughout the story, such as the use of the internet in 1986 when it was not yet being used by the masses, however I tried not to let it affect my opinion of the book too much. Overall, I felt this book was enjoyable. It was overly sugar-coated at times, yet still very readable. If you are looking for an easy read, a sweet love story, and a history tie in, I would recommend this book. If you are looking for a raw look at what life was really like during war-time I would look elsewhere.

My Rating: 3.25/5 Stars

(buy it!)

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6 Responses

  1. I liked this book, and am glad to see that you felt it a worthwhile read as well.

  2. Intriguing review. I have heard lots of really good things about this book but somethings never added up to me. Somehow I think my reading would be more in line with your thoughts. Really enjoyed your points!

  3. Yet another book to add to my list. Maybe my library will have it. Oh yeah, wishful thinking!

  4. I realized that my comment above would be very cryptic if you haven’t read my post about our local library in my main blog “Celtic Lady”.

    Here’s the link: http://celticanamcara.blogspot.com/2010/02/library.html

  5. […] Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (audio version) […]

  6. […] I searching for a photo of the book online {thanks}{being lazy & didn’t feel like taking then uploading one}, I stumbled upon the author, […]

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