Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

I had been hearing good things about this book for awhile, but just never got around to reading it until recently.  I wasn’t really sure what it was about (I tend to skim over summaries on book jackets or online) but if it was supposed to be good, I figured I’d check it out.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” is one of those books that jumps back and forth between time periods.  It is helpful that the year is stated at the beginning of each chapter.  Forgive me if I don’t follow the jumping back and forth between years exactly; it’s hard to remember.

The book starts with Henry as an older man; Henry is a Chinese American living in Seattle whose wife recently passed away from cancer.  He is struggling with the loss when he hears that a local hotel that had been boarded up for years recently was purchased and the owner found some items in the basement.  You then find out more about when Charlie was a young child.  His parents forced him to speak English, even though they only spoke Cantonese, so that he would fit in  and his strict father also made him wear a button saying “I am Chinese” so no one would mistake him for Japanese, who we were in a war with at the time in the 1940′s.  He was also made to go to an American school and worked in cafeteria serving lunch to get away from the other kids.  He met a friend there one day who was a young Japanese American girl named Keiko.  Although his father had given him strict orders to stay away from anyone who was Japanese, and especially to stay out of that neighborhood, Charlie and Keiko forged a friendship.  They also bonded over a the music of a local jazz musician who Charlie hears about from his African American friend, Sheldon, who played his saxophone on the street in the different neighborhoods.

When the war starts to get worse, the Japanese in Seattle are being “evacuated” to camps more inland.  Keiko and her family are forced to leave and Charlie tries everything that his 12-year old self can do to help them, but they still must leave.  Charlie manages to get a job helping the woman that he works with in the cafeteria; they will be serving food at the Japanese camps.  He goes there looking for Keiko and her family, and after awhile, finally finds them.  When Henry’s father finds out that he’s been associating with a Japanese person, he disowns Charlie and refuses to speak with him anymore.  Keiko is then moved to a different camp, and Henry and Sheldon make a bus trip to pay a visit and at that time, it seems like Henry is officially courting Keiko.  Once he goes home, they write to each other often, until the letters start coming less and less.  Henry writes one last letter to Keiko once the war is over and it is rumored that the Japanese are coming home from the camps.  He asks her to meet him in front of the hotel at a specific time.

I will leave off there and you can read the book to find out the rest!  As you know, I like historical fiction.  Other than the fact that I did learn some things about what was going on in the 40′s during the war, it was just a really good story.  The story does switch back and forth between young and old Henry, and my summary above left out most of the old Henry story.  It’s one of those books that really drew me in so that I didn’t want to put it down.  It was also a sweet love story that shows you how powerful love can be (even between two teenagers) in difficult times.   Loved it!

  • Ridergirl4339

    His name is Henry. Sometimes in the summary you call him Charlie.

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