Book Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Book Review by Bobbi Cook from This Little Book Blog
I have to say that I chose to read this book both for its sentimental cover and clever title. I had a feeling that it would be softly romantic, perhaps tragic even. It definitely lived up to my expectations, and I was left quite satisfied for having read it.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is the story of Henry Lee. We meet him as he is rediscovering and remembering his past. He is searching for a long lost object that means as much to him as it did to the sweet girl that he had a crush on when he was in his childhood. His journey takes him back to a time and place that were both turbulent and formative on his young, innocent soul.
At age twelve, Henry lives in Seattle’s Chinatown during the beginning of World War II. His parents are traditional Chinese immigrants who want the best for their only son. They send him to an all white school where he is on a scholarship. There he meets Keiko who is in a similar position, also attending Rainier Elementary. The two become fast friends, sharing an interest in Jazz.
Although Keiko lives just blocks away from Henry, their worlds are very different. She is Japanese American and lives in Nihonmachi. Her family is friendly and open minded, whereas Henry’s family will have nothing to do with the Japanese (his father angrily followed the Japanese invasion of China). Henry and Keiko meet in secret, until their friendship is threatened by the government evacuating her family to an internment camp. He is left to sort out his feelings for Keiko, and to make difficult decisions about his future.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet has been dubbed as a “wartime-era Chinese-Japanese variation on Romeo and Juliet” by The Seattle Times. I can understand the comparison. It is a story of young love, thwarted by societal prejudices, but I thought it was more than that. It made me really think about our history as a country, and the war-time decisions that were made that affected the lives of many thousands of Japanese American citizens. It also renewed my faith in the importance of love and friendship.