Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet


Author: Jamie Ford

Title: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Genre: Romance/Gentle Read

Publication Date: 2009

Number of Pages: 285

Geographical Setting: Northwestern United States

Time Period: 1940s and 1986

Series (if applicable): N/A

Plot Summary:

In 1986 the sight of an old Japanese parasol transports Henry Lee back to the 1940s when he was a young Chinese-American boy living in Seattle.  His father, concerned about the war in China, wants his son to grow up American.  His father demands he speak only English, not Cantonese, and even gives him a button with the words “I’m an American” in red, white and blue letters.  Going to an all-white school, Henry is ignored by his peers until a Japanese-American girl named Keiko arrives and befriends Henry while they both work in the cafeteria to help pay tuition.  Henry’s father would never approve of their friendship, and went to great lengths to keep them apart.  When the United States government “evacuates” all people of Japanese descent into internment camps, Keiko and her family are given very little time to deal with their possessions and settle accounts before being carted off to Camp Harmony in Idaho.  Many Japanese families were forced to leave their possessions behind, some of which ended up in the basement of the Panama Hotel in Japantown, Seattle.  Henry tries to stay in touch, sending Keiko letters, and sneaking to Idaho with his older sax-playing friend Sheldon to see for himself the abhorrent conditions in which Keiko was now living.  Told in flashbacks while Henry and his son sift through the boxes filling the basement, Henry’s son learns of the difficult relationship his father and grandfather had, which happens to be similar to his own relationship with his father.  A gripping, beautifully written piece, this story will have you hoping love can be rekindled and bygones can be bygones.

Subject Headings: World War Two, Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Love, Racism, Injustice, Relationships

Appeal: deliberate, poignant, realistic characters, layered, timeless, dramatic, nostalgic, romantic, thoughtful, cadenced

3 terms that best describe this book: authentic, poetic, well-crafted

Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?)

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese-American Internment Camps.  Gruenewald, Mary.  2005.

Autobiographical work of what it was like to be a teenage girl in the Internment camps. (Authentic, deliberate)

Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Camp Experience.  Inada, Lawson Fusao, ed.  2000.

Using a scrap-book style, Inada has brought together first-hand accounts of real Japanese-Americans’ experiences in the internment camps of the early-mid 1940s. (Well-crafted, dramatic)

Saying Goodbye: A Memoir for Two Fathers.  Montgomery, M.R.  1989.

Montgomery faced racism when he married a Japanese woman.  Barely knowing his own father, Montgomery tries to learn everything about him; he also learns of his wife’s father and along the way, he sees his own story.  (Thoughtful, timeless)

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

The Moon Looked Down.  Garlock, Dorothy.  2009.

The racism of WWII America was not restricted to those with Japanese ancestry.  This tells the tale of a German whose family moved to Illinois to escape Hitler’s regime.  Later, the town suspects the family of being Nazis and do whatever they can to keep the 20 year old daughter from marrying the man she loves. (Realistic, poignant)

Pictures at an Exhibition.  Houghteling, Sara.  2009.

Recovering art was common in post-WWII Europe, Max Berenzon returns to Paris after surviving the Nazi occupation to find his father’s art gallery empty.  He sets out to find all of them, and reveals his family’s tragic secret along the way. (layered)

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms.  Tsukiyama, Gail.  2007.

Set in Japan before, during and after World War Two, two orphaned brothers are raised by their grandparents and hope to pursue excellent careers.  One wants to be a sumo wrestler, the other a master maker of traditional Noh masks, once they have apprenticed themselves, war breaks out and changes everything. (authentic, layered, dramatic)

Name: Kali Buseth


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