Showing posts with label Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Show all posts

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: Book Review

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetAbout a year ago, I went to Numero Water Boutique, a spa and tea house in Little Italy. One of the spas owners, Daisuke Muira, recommended I read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. While he was preparing tea for us, I remarked on the decor in the tea room, and how much I loved the wood on the walls. 

Mr. Muira told me the wood was reclaimed from the Panama Hotel, the hotel that is the centerpiece of the book. He went on to tell me the story of the hotel and it was so fascinating I knew I needed to read the book. I found it at my library's used book store a few months ago. I'm so glad I picked it up. It's a great read.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is set in Seattle. The book jumps back and forth between present day (1986) and the 1940's during World War II. The story centers around Chinese Henry Lee and Japanese Keiko Okabe, two childhood friends. They meet at Henry's school, the all white school on the opposite side of town from where Henry lives. The tension at the time between the Chinese and Japanese should have kept the two kids from becoming friends, especially because of how Henry's father feels about the Japanese, but over the course of the story the two go beyond friendship and fall in love.

The story opens in the present. Henry has heard that developers are renovating the Panama Hotel, and they "found something" in the basement. Hearing this brings back memories for Henry and sparks a little bit of hope that he may be able to keep the childhood promise he made to Keiko after all.

What I like about the book:
The story has just enough history and politics (FBI roundups, Japanese interment camps and the Seattle jazz scene) to make the story come to life, but not so much that you feel you're reading something bordering in non-fiction.

Knowing that the book is based on fact makes it even more poignant. The Panama Hotel is real. Japanese families did hide their belongings in its basement. Families were taken to camps. The reality behind the fiction is heartbreaking but sucks you into the story even more.

What I have mixed feelings about:
Since I didn't dislike anything about the book, I'll phrase this as ambivalence. I understand why Ford told the story using the past and present. I think it was necessary to weave Henry's present relationship with his own son in with his relationship he had with his dad. Sometimes it was hard to keep up with the ages Henry and Keiko were during the jumps but knowing their ages isn't vital to the plot.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is such a good book. At only 285 pages, it's a fast read too. Be sure to read the interview with the author too. 

Have you read this book? What did you think?

*I posted pictures from my Numero Water trip on Whrrl. See what else I've read in my 2010 reading list.
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