Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Author: Jamie Ford
Hardbound: 290 pages
Date Published: January 27, 2009
Publisher: Ballantine Books (div of Random House)
Ford vacillates between a front story dominated by nostalgia and a backstory dominated by fear. The front story struggles to support the weight of the backstory, and the complexity Ford brings to the latter is the strength of this debut novel, which considers a Chinese American man’s relationship with a Japanese American woman in the 1940s and his son in the 1980s. Although Ford does not have anything especially novel to say about a familiar subject (the interplay between race and family), he writes earnestly and cares for his characters, who consistently defy stereotype. Ford posits great meaning in objects—a button reading “I am Chinese” and a jazz record, in particular—but the most striking moments come from the characters’ readings of each other: “Henry couldn’t picture bathing with his parents the way some Japanese families did. He couldn’t picture himself doing a lot of things with his parents. . . . He felt his stomach turn a little. His heart raced when he thought about Keiko, but his gut tightened just the same.” --Kevin Clouther
About the Author:
Ford’s interest in his father’s “I Am Chinese” button inspired him to write a short story of the same name, which eventually became a chapter in Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet takes place in the wake of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and this act of Japanese military aggression on American soil determines many of the central events in the novel. The historical components were just enough and held my interest throughout the book. Set in the Asian American community in Seattle during World War II, and narrated alternately by a young and impressionable Chinese American boy and the middle-aged man he grows up to be. Sometimes the jumping back and forth between eras was disconcerting, but it did not take away lovely story-line. I really felt the heartwarming friendship between Henry Lee and Keiko and the childhood love they had for one another.
While searching through the items in the Panama Hotel for vestiges of Keiko and her family, including an extremely rare jazz record of the performer Oscar Holden, aided by his son, Marty, and Marty’s fiancée, Samantha, Henry finds himself revisiting his childhood: his intractable conflicts with his father, a Chinese nationalist who refused to accept the innocence of Japanese Americans in his neighborhood; his own struggle to accept his identity as a Chinese American; and the choices he made years ago that prevented him from fulfilling his promises to Keiko.
The title of the novel is perfect. The story is full of the bitter and the sweet, bitter for the American prejudices held not only for the Japanese, but for anyone of Asian descent, and sweet for the innocence of first love, the ability of children to find hope and joy. Isn’t that the way life is today. Most children don’t see prejudice and are so accepting of others
When I finished the story last night, I closed my Kindle and smiled. I really must have been in the mood for a happy ending,
This story is definitely an 8/10 for me. This story would create a lively discussion and would recommend for any literature class and book clubs.