Monday, March 26, 2012

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

Hotel On The Corner of Bitter and Sweet
by Jamie Ford
Why did you choose this book? I’d heard good things about it and the cover is so pretty 
When did you read this book? March 2012
Who should read this book? readers of historical fiction, particularly WW II fiction
Here is a synopsis of ‘Hotel On The Corner of Bitter and Sweet' from Goodreads, where it rates 3.90 stars.
Source: ebook borrowed from my local library
In the opening pages of Jamie Ford's stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japan town. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol. 
This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry's world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While "scholarshipping" at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship-and innocent love-that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept. 
Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel's dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family's belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice-words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago. 
Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart. 
My Review 
This was such a good book! The story begins in 1986, shortly after Henry Lee is widowed. His wife has recently died after a long bout with cancer, and there is some tension between Henry and his grown son as they have a difference of opinion in the treatment she received. , Henry begins to reminisce about his ‘coming of age’ days when a shuttered hotel undergoes renovation and stored belongings are found in the basement.. 
The story is told alternating between events in current day Seattle and 1940s Seattle during the war years.
In 1942, Henry Lee is a first-generation American, born of immigrant Chinese parents. Keiko Okabe is second generation American of Japanese descent. They both live in the International District of Seattle during the war years, and meet when they ‘scholarship’ at a ‘caucasian’ school full of privileged kids who look down upon anyone who is not like them. 
While Keiko’s parents are fully American in thought and action, Henry’s father is still fighting the war (in his mind) between Japan and China. He does NOT want Henry mistaken for Japanese, which is somewhat valid since the US is at war with Japan and there is a lot of post-Pearl Harbor hatred directed towards ‘the Japs’. But he also encourages Henry to hate the Japanese; almost commands it. 
Henry grows very close to Keiko, his first love, even though he is slow to realize it. He get the encouragement he needs from Sheldon, a sax-playing street musician! But after Pearl Harbor, all of Japanese descent are suspect the US orders all west coast Japanese to be ‘evacuated’ to interior camps. Keiko must leave with her family. They promise to write, but after a few times the letters from Keiko stop coming. Henry gets on with life, marries a Chinese woman and they have their son, living together happily until her death just before the book begins. But Henry has never quite gotten over Keiko. The title is perfect, because the ending is truly bittersweet! I highly recommend this book!
My Rating:  ★★★★★ 5 Stars
Challenges counted for: 
  • Ebook Challenge
  • Historical Fiction Challenge
  • New Author Challenge
  • Support Your Local Library Challenge


  1. My coworker recommended this to me and I read it with my daughter. It's a wonderful book.

  2. I have this book but I have yet to read it! I really want to get to it soon.