Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Story of Star-Crossed Young Loves in WWII Seattle--Jamie Ford's "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet"

Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet follows Henry, the son of Chinese immigrants in Seattle in both 1942 and 1986. The story starts in 1986, when Henry hears a news story about the personal items of Japanese internees discovered in the basement of the nearby Panama Hotel. His curiosity spiked by an item he sees brought out of the hotel, Henry, a recent widower, decides to go to the basement of the hotel to look around. The story then moves into flashback, and Henry remembers 1942 and his friendship with Keiko, a 12 year old Japanese-American he met at school. As Henry and Keiko get closer, Keiko's family gets closer to "evacuation" to an internee camp. When they are evacuated, both Henry and Keiko are devastated, but promise to remember each other. Will their memories hold, or will the war tear them apart? 

Overall, I thought Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was a wonderful story of two teenagers caught up in turbulence and hatred aimed at Asian-Americans in general and Japanese-Americans in particular during WWII. The novel does a good job of capturing the emotions of the evacuation of the Japanese from Seattle and of young Henry losing his best friend and young love. The characters and emotion are not as strong in the 1980s, but there is plenty to catch a reader in the 1940s story. At times Ford does rely on cultural stereotypes, particularly with the African-American characters and with Henry's father, a staunch Chinese nationalist. But this rough characterization is overshadowed by the strength and emotion of the story. 

I would recommend this book to just about anyone--and lovers of historical fiction especially. This was a good debut novel, and I will be interested to see what else Ford writes.

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