Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a fantastic novel and certainly opened my eyes to an aspect of WWII that not many people elaborate on.
Henry is the main character, a twelve-year-old who lives in Seattle and attends a primarily white school. His father is a traditional Chinese man who instructs Henry to speak English only in their house while he speaks Cantonese in order to help Henry's "scholarshipping" attempts; the result is one sided conversations with his father airing his opinion but being unable to understand Henry's reply. Because of the language barrier between them, Henry becomes isolated socially, seeking the friendship of sax player Sheldon who busks on the streets.
Enter Keiko, a beautiful young Japanese girl who also attends Henry's school on a scholarship. Together they work in the school kitchen to help pay their way and they endure the taunts, insults and stares from the other students, caused by the post-Pearl Harbour effect.
The reaction of Americans to the Japanese during WWII is a generally avoided topic, a source of embarrassment to the country. The only other book I have read about this subject was War of the Eagles by Eric Walters and that deals with the Canadian internment of the Japanese in British Columbia. I was unaware of the American side of this tragedy until reading "Hotel".
Because the story is has the aspect of a twelve-year-old, we can see how he grows and changes through out the war. The novel skips back and forth between the past (starting in 1942) and the present (1986). Henry's story unfolds as Keiko faces discrimination and eventual internment, and his desperation grows to save her and build a future together.
The novel isn't just a political statement though--it carefully crafts a beautiful tale of love and time passed. As Henry's father makes irreversible decisions that affect Henry's future, we can compare the relationship of Henry and his stubborn father to Henry and his son Marty.
"Hotel" is ultimately a story of forgiveness and second chances though. It shows us that life is indeed bitter and sweet, full of love and happiness but also tragedy and sadness. I definitely recommend this book as a must read and I give it four out of five stars for keeping me enthralled right to the last page.
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