Title: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Author: Jamie Ford
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library; print copy from TLC Book Tours
Audiobook reader: Feodor Chin
First line: Old Henry Lee stood transfixed by all the commotion at the Panama Hotel.
Henry Lee is growing up in Seattle, the only son of his Chinese immigrant parents. His father is extremely proud of Henry’s scholarship to Rainier Elementary, the white school in town. There is one other non-white student in Rainier: Keiko, a Japanese-American girl the same age as Henry. The two strike up an unconventional friendship, quickly becoming best friends, something Henry’s parents would be horrified to discover. China is at war with Japan, and so is the US. When the United States government starts rounding up Japanese-Americans and putting them in internment camps, Henry and Keiko’s friendship is in jeopardy. Over the next few years, Henry will grow into a man and learn that sometimes doing what’s right is the hardest thing of all.
I chose to listen to The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet after Sandy reviewed the audio version and said it was good. And she was right. Not only is this a brilliant novel, but the narrator did a wonderful job of bringing Henry’s story to life.
The story is told with dual timelines – one timeline is the story of newly widowed Henry in 1986, the other is the story of 12 to 16-year-old Henry during the war years. It is a simple story, one without a lot of surprises, and yet it is so poignant and beautifully written that I loved listening to it. Henry and Keiko’s story is told with reverent tenderness amid the injustice and horror of the internment camps.
Ford chose to focus on the characters – Henry, a young man who wants to please his traditional Chinese father, but who also wants to be truly American; Keiko, a second-generation Japanese-American who doesn’t even speak Japanese and yet is seen as the enemy; Henry’s father, made bitter by hatred for his homeland’s enemies; Sheldon, an African-American saxophone player dealing with prejudice on a daily basis even though he has moved far from the Deep South. The result is an authentic, character-driven novel where the issues of racial prejudice and injustice are clearly demonstrated in the lives of those most effected.
(A review copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was provided to me by the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it for this blog tour. The above link is an Amazon affiliate link. If you click on it and subsequently purchase anything, I will receive a small percentage.)