Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Author Jamie Ford brings to life the suffering and damage done by the unjust relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II in this poignant novel of young love between a Chinese American boy and a Japanese American girl. Slowly, between reminiscences of this often overlooked part of our history and the nearly present day, the story unfurls like the parasol that was left behind by one of the families evacuated to an internment camp.
The novel revolves around Henry, now an old man, who has spent his entire life in Seattle. Being Chinese American, his neighborhood was separate from but nearby Japanese Town, where Keiko, his schoolmate, best friend, and first love resides. The two meet as the only non-whites attending a public school. Being Asian Americans in an all-white school at a time when tolerance for all ethnicities was low was not easy. Add to that the war with Japan, and Henry and Keiko’s fellow students have all the ammunition they need to bully and ostracize them. This only serves to draw them closer in a mixed-race relationship that even (and especially) Henry’s father cannot abide.
When Pearl Harbor is bombed, Keiko and her family are sent to the ironically named “Camp Harmony” in Idaho, where they’ll await further relocation to other parts of the country. With help from a couple of friends, Henry is able to visit the camp. There he visits Keiko and her family and promises always to keep in touch.
Alas, time passes and the correspondence between the two ceases. When his wife, Edith, dies, Henry is once again drawn to the memories of Keiko, thinking maybe they can reconnect and rekindle their past romance.
This story of young love and the secondary story of Henry’s deepening estrangement with his father makes this a great choice for any book club, and in particular parent-teen book clubs.
Ballantine/Random House; ISBN 978-0-34550-534-7; $15.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: Reader's Guide
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