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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Ballantine Books
ISBN: 978-0345505347
Published Oct 6, 2009
Trade paperback, 301 pages

This was a beautiful and bittersweet novel that explored family ties, lost love and the longings of the heart that transcends cultures and fear.

Henry Lee is a recently widowed Chinese American who begins to reminisce of his childhood and his first love when he sees that the boarded-up and forgotten Panama Hotel is now being reopened, and the new owner has discovered the belongings of Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during WWII. The story alternates between the present (Henry as a fifty-six year old man) in 1986 and the past (Henry as a twelve year-old boy) in 1942. Henry meets Keiko, a Japanese American girl at school. They bond because they are the only Asian children in their preppy school and then form a friendship which is cut short when Keiko and her family are sent to an internment camp and they lose touch with one another.

This story was good on many levels. Henry is still struggling with his widowhood, he worries about his strained relationship with his grown son and the recent news about the Panama Hotel that has him wondering about his past. Then there is the historical aspect of the feud and hatred between the Chinese and the Japanese that affected even the children of the second generation of these cultures who neighboured in America. I loved the historical part more than the present one because I learned more about how WWII affected Japanese families. Canada also had internment camps and it is shameful to see how North America dealt with its own citizens.

Keiko was a lovely character. She was strong and had a positive outlook in life despite the harrowing circumstances of her people. Henry was a quiet sort of character who stood up for what he thought was right even when it cost him dearly. He was loyal and long-suffering. Although some think of this as a sad story, I saw it more as one of second chances. The past cannot be changed especially when there are circumstances beyond our control, but the future is still bright ahead of us.

We read this for our book club and really enjoyed discussing it together. The paperback version from Ballantine Books includes questions for discussion and an interview with the author that gave me more insight on the story's topic. The title is perfect for this novel. It's also a squeaky clean read with a beautiful story. Highly recommended.

Note: This book is rated C = clean read.

Reviewed by Laura

Disclosure: I borrowed this book from the library. I was not told how to rate or review this product.

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