Book Review: Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet by Jamie Ford

Book: Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet by Jamie Ford

Published January 2009 by Random House|317 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Historical Fiction

In 1986, Henry Lee joins a crowd outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has discovered the belongings of Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during World War II. As the owner displays and unfurls a Japanese parasol, Henry, a Chinese American, remembers a young Japanese American girl from his childhood in the 1940s—Keiko Okabe, with whom he forged a bond of friendship and innocent love that transcended the prejudices of their Old World ancestors. After Keiko and her family were evacuated to the internment camps, she and Henry could only hope that their promise to each other would be kept. Now, forty years later, Henry explores the hotel’s basement for the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot even begin to measure. His search will take him on a journey to revisit the sacrifices he has made for family, for love, for country.

I’m not going to lie, this was a book that I’ve had on my TBR for ages…and the only reason I read it was because it was required reading for my English class.  I actually really liked it, and who knows when I would have gotten to it, if it weren’t for school?

I really liked seeing Henry change over time- we see him as a child in the 1940’s and as an adult in 1986.  Eventually, the two timelines come together and we get a more complete picture of what happened to both Henry and Keiko.  Well, Henry more than Keiko.  What happened to her in the years after World War II is unknown, and we never find out what path her life took.  I wish we knew more about that, but it’s also fun to wonder what happened.

I really felt for Henry- in 1986, we see see him deal with resurfacing memories because of found objects at the Panama Hotel.  He has some great conversations with his son about what happened in the 1940’s, and his son eventually finds Keiko and gets Henry over to New York so he can see her again.  It was nice to see Henry have some sort of closure.

As for the 1940’s, I really liked seeing that part of Henry’s life.  He doesn’t have a great relationship with his dad, and by spending time with Keiko, his relationship with his father really changes.  And not for the better.  You could tell that Henry really cared for her, and it seemed like she really cared for him as well.  It couldn’t have been easy to see her go through so much, and you could tell that what was going on really bothered him.  As a 12-year-old, he knew that how Japanese-Americans were treated was wrong.

There was still a lot I didn’t know about the time- like how families who were sent to internment camps often didn’t return to their homes once they were released.  Families had little time to get rid of their belongings, and either sold them for really cheap or gave them to others to hold on to.  That’s how Henry made his way to the basement of the Panama Hotel, looking through belongings.  Another thing that I had no idea about was a conflict between China and Japan at the time.  It explains why Henry’s father hates those who are Japanese.  Which doesn’t mean it’s okay, but I can understand it.

It also explains why he has Henry wear a button that says “I am Chinese.”  I get being scared that they’ll be next, and that he was trying to protect his son in his own way.  It couldn’t have been an easy time to be an immigrant.

Glancing over this review, I’m surprised I talked so much about it!  Between the discussion posts and writing assignments I had to do for this book, I thought I had already gotten all of my thoughts and feelings out there!  Obviously not, but I am glad I read this book.  Then again, I think all of the assignments I did for this book are why I remember so many details, even though I’m writing this review nearly 3 weeks after finishing the book.

4 stars.  I didn’t love it, but I still really liked it.