Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

A cozy, genteel room to discuss books, authors, and things literary.

Moderators: Lance, Corlyss_D

Post Reply
Madame
Posts: 3552
Joined: Wed Apr 27, 2005 2:56 am

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Post by Madame » Wed Jan 12, 2011 1:32 pm

My book club has chosen this wonderful work for this month. A review from one Amazon reader:


As I wipe my teary eyes, I am amazed at the extraordinary journey I have just experienced reading Jamie Ford's "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet."

The hotel is the Panama Hotel, an old dilapidated landmark in Seattle. It's 1986 and 56-year-old Henry Lee is among the onlookers who witness the unveiling of recently discovered belongings left in the basement of the hotel by Japanese families in the 1940s. To Henry, however, the trunks, suitcases and crates and their contents are not just mere curiosities or historical artifacts. For him, they bring remembrances of the World War II years, of being twelve years old and trying to fit in an all-white school while following Chinese cultural traditions at home; of being Asian and his father's dread that he would be confused with the enemy, the Japanese. Most importantly, they bring back memories of a special friendship with Keiko, the only other kid of Asian ethnicity in school.

As Ford deftly switches the narrative from 1986 to the 1940s and vice versa, the readers are taken through a remarkable story that is both sweet and poignant. For me, it brought history to life. All too often we forget that behind the numbers, there were individuals and lives that were deeply affected by the fear, the uncertainty and the hatred. I confess that there were many moments that I was on the verge of tears, such as when young Henry looks on Japanese American families burning their personal belongings for fear that they would be accused of cooperating with Japan or when Keiko and Henry witness the "evacuation" of Bainbridge Island. I also felt moved by Henry, the adult, who is still reeling from the death of his wife. His inability to emotionally connect with his own son, and his struggle to find his own identity as both American and Chinese are familiar to me as I'm too the daughter of Chinese immigrants.

Ford's novel is a story with many layers. But I was most impressed and touched by the author's honest and unflinching portrayal of the sentiments that pervaded the years after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Sentiments that led to acts and events that we would rather trivialized or forget today. The fact that they were acted out not only by adults but also by children made them more painful to read about.

I highly recommend this novel to those who remember their first love, have heard about the Japanese American internment camps, or strive to bridge two cultural worlds and to those who just love a good story. To all of you, there is a room waiting at the "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet."

HoustonDavid
Posts: 1222
Joined: Fri Nov 07, 2008 12:20 am
Location: Houston, Texas, USA

Re: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Post by HoustonDavid » Wed Jan 12, 2011 2:41 pm

Reminds me a little of "Snow Falling on Cedars", another novel about the nissan (as well as
third and even fourth generation "gisan") Japanese sent to American concentration camps
for the duration of the war. It was televised, but the book was much better. It too involved
Seattle and Bainbridge Island. The metaphoric analogy of "snow falling on cedars" certainly
refers to the near absolute silence of fellow Americans concerning the atrocity of these
internments for so many years.

Glad to see you have returned, Madame. We missed you. :D
"May You be born in interesting (maybe confusing?) times" - Chinese Proverb (or Curse)

Madame
Posts: 3552
Joined: Wed Apr 27, 2005 2:56 am

Re: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Post by Madame » Wed Jan 12, 2011 3:00 pm

HoustonDavid wrote:Reminds me a little of "Snow Falling on Cedars", another novel about the nissan (as well as
third and even fourth generation "gisan") Japanese sent to American concentration camps
for the duration of the war. It was televised, but the book was much better. It too involved
Seattle and Bainbridge Island. The metaphoric analogy of "snow falling on cedars" certainly
refers to the near absolute silence of fellow Americans concerning the atrocity of these
internments for so many years.
Other than the common theme of the internment of Japanese-Americans, the story line is quite different than 'Snow Falling on Cedars'. I didn't care for that book, less so the movie, for some reason.

An aside ... a friend's father served in the 442nd regiment of Nisei soldiers during WWII; their fight to keep their place in history after the war was nearly as challenging as their families' reclaiming their lives after they were released from the camps. Their motto was "Go for Broke", and they were later portrayed in a couple of movies "Go For Broke" and "Beyond Barbed Wire". But that's another story in itself.

HoustonDavid
Posts: 1222
Joined: Fri Nov 07, 2008 12:20 am
Location: Houston, Texas, USA

Re: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Post by HoustonDavid » Wed Jan 12, 2011 4:22 pm

From the Amazon review of the book, I would agree that it sounds more interesting than
"Snow Falling on Cedars". The analogy of near silence in the title is better than the actual
book. I was interested but disappointed in both the book and the television adaptation.
Don't know why I would think one would be better than the other.
"May You be born in interesting (maybe confusing?) times" - Chinese Proverb (or Curse)

NancyElla
Posts: 659
Joined: Mon Jun 22, 2009 9:51 pm

Re: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Post by NancyElla » Fri Dec 09, 2011 1:04 am

I've just started Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet for a book club discussion. I have read historical accounts of the internment previously, and I'm interested to see the subject return to public discussion via this fictional treatment.
"This is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great." --Willa Cather

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 11 guests