Thursday, April 16, 2009

Review - Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Jamie Ford
I had the pleasure of meeting author Jamie Ford on his recent book tour through the Pacific Northwest and wanted to spread the word about his fantastic first novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Last week, Hotel reached the New York Times list and is currently in a fifth printing.

This book is a classic love story against a much larger story (the removal of the Japanese from Seattle during World War II) and this simple, lyrical, haunting, and beautiful story will stick with you. I don’t give away endings, but it’s something worth reading the book for.

In the flashbacks, the protagonist, Henry Lee, twelve years old, is Chinese, but it’s 1942 and the folks living on the West Coast of the United States are feeling just a bit vulnerable. When Henry’s staunchly nationalistic father pins an “I am Chinese” button to his son’s shirt and enrolls him in an all-white prep school, Henry finds himself friendless and at the mercy of schoolyard bullies. His salvation arrives in the form of Keiko, a Japanese girl with whom Henry forms an instant—and forbidden—bond. As their friendship forms, the backdrop of early 1940s Seattle comes to life, complete with jazz greats playing the international district’s most lively bars and restaurants. It’s this music that becomes the greatest tangible evidence that their friendship existed. 

In real-time (mid-1980s), Henry relives the loss of his friend, Keiko after the surprise discovery in the basement of a shut-up hotel the belongings of several Japanese families who were evacuated in 1942. As he remembers, we see the experiences through his childhood eyes and we know, instantly, the trauma of war, as well as the unsettling relocation for thousands of Americans who looked too much like the enemy. 

I couldn’t put this book down and when it ended, I felt as if the author had handed the world a gift. A memory of a time when the world quivered under the pressure of war, treachery, and death, and how two young children’s lives (along with so many others) would never quite be the same again.

Guest blogger bio: Trish Lawrence is an editor, writer, and social media addict, and blogs about her writing life (and the social media it often includes) at

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