Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

( 1850 )

Overview

"Sentimental, heartfelt?.the exploration of Henry?s changing relationship with his family and with Keiko will keep most readers turning pages...A timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don?t repeat those injustices."? Kirkus Reviews

?A tender and satisfying novel set in a time and a place lost forever, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet gives us a glimpse of the damage ...

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Overview

"Sentimental, heartfelt….the exploration of Henry’s changing relationship with his family and with Keiko will keep most readers turning pages...A timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don’t repeat those injustices."— Kirkus Reviews

“A tender and satisfying novel set in a time and a place lost forever, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet gives us a glimpse of the damage that is caused by war—not the sweeping damage of the battlefield, but the cold, cruel damage to the hearts and humanity of individual people. Especially relevant in today's world, this is a beautifully written book that will make you think. And, more importantly, it will make you feel."
Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain

“Jamie Ford's first novel explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans in the Seattle area during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love. An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut.”
Lisa See, bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan


In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.

This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While “scholarshipping” at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship–and innocent love–that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel’s dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice–words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.

Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Mesmerizing and evocative, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a tale of conflicted loyalties, devotion, as well as a vibrant portrait of Seattle's Nihonmachi district in its heyday."

— Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants

“A tender and satisfying novel set in a time and a place lost forever, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet gives us a glimpse of the damage that is caused by war—not the sweeping damage of the battlefield, but the cold, cruel damage to the hearts and humanity of individual people. Especially relevant in today's world, this is a beautifully written book that will make you think. And, more importantly, it will make you feel."
Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain

“Jamie Ford's first novel explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans in the Seattle area during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love. An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut.”
Lisa See, bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

"Sentimental, heartfelt novel portrays two children separated during the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. In 1940s Seattle, ethnicities do not mix. Whites, blacks, Chinese and Japanese live in separate neighborhoods, and their children attend different schools. When Henry Lee’s staunchly nationalistic father pins an “I am Chinese” button to his 12-year-old son’s shirt and enrolls him in an all-white prep school, Henry finds himself friendless and at the mercy of schoolyard bullies. His salvation arrives in the form of Keiko, a Japanese girl with whom Henry forms an instant—and forbidden—bond. The occasionally sappy prose tends to overtly express subtleties that readers would be happier to glean for themselves, but the tender relationship between the two young people is moving. The older Henry, a recent widower living in 1980s Seattle, reflects in a series of flashbacks on his burgeoning romance with Keiko and its abrupt ending when her family was evacuated. A chance discovery of items left behind by Japanese-Americans during the evacuation inspires Henry to share his and Keiko’s story with his own son, in hopes of preventing the dysfunctional parent-child relationship he experienced with his own father. The major problem here is that Henry’s voice always sounds like that of a grown man, never quite like that of a child; the boy of the flashbacks is jarringly precocious and not entirely credible. Still, the exploration of Henry’s changing relationship with his family and with Keiko will keep most readers turning pages while waiting for the story arc to come full circle, despite the overly flowery portrait of young love, cruel fate and unbreakable bonds. A timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don’t repeat those injustices." - Kirkus Reviews

"Fifth-grade scholarship students and best friends Henry and Keiko are the only Asians in their Seattle elementary school in 1942. Henry is Chinese, Keiko is Japanese, and Pearl Harbor has made all Asians-even those who are American born-targets for abuse. Because Henry's nationalistic father has a deep-seated hatred for Japan, Henry keeps his friendship with and eventual love for Keiko a secret. When Keiko's family is sent to an internment camp in Idaho, Henry vows to wait for her. Forty years later, Henry comes upon an old hotel where the belongings of dozens of displaced Japanese families have turned up in the basement, and his love for Keiko is reborn. In his first novel, award-winning short-story writer Ford expertly nails the sweet innocence of first love, the cruelty of racism, the blindness of patriotism, the astonishing unknowns between parents and their children, and the sadness and satisfaction at the end of a life well lived. The result is a vivid picture of a confusing and critical time in American history. Recommended for all fiction collections." - Library Journal

Advance praise for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

“Jamie Ford’s novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is deeply informed by an intimate knowledge of Seattle during World War II, of the tribulations of Asian peoples during the time of Japanese internment, and even of the Seattle jazz scene of that time. His story of an innocent passion that crosses racial barriers–and then, of the whole life of a man who forsook the girl he loved–is told with an artistic technique that makes emotion inevitable.”
–Louis B. Jones, author of Particles and Luck

“I loved it! Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a beautiful and tender masterpiece. A book everyone will be talking about, and the best book you’ll read this year.”
–Anne Frasier, USA Today bestselling author of Garden of Darkness

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet tells a heartwarming story of fathers and sons, first loves, fate, and the resilient human heart. Set in the ethnic neighborhoods of Seattle during World War II and Japanese American internment camps of the era, the times and places are brought to life by the marvelous, evocative details.”
–Jim Tomlinson, winner of the 2006 Iowa Short Fiction Award and author of Things Kept, Things Left Behind

Publishers Weekly

Ford's strained debut concerns Henry Lee, a Chinese-American in Seattle who, in 1986, has just lost his wife to cancer. After Henry hears that the belongings of Japanese immigrants interned during WWII have been found in the basement of the Panama Hotel, the narrative shuttles between 1986 and the 1940s in a predictable story that chronicles the losses of old age and the bewilderment of youth. Henry recalls the difficulties of life in America during WWII, when he and his Japanese-American school friend, Keiko, wandered through wartime Seattle. Keiko and her family are later interned in a camp, and Henry, horrified by America's anti-Japanese hysteria, is further conflicted because of his Chinese father's anti-Japanese sentiment. Henry's adult life in 1986 is rather mechanically rendered, and Ford clumsily contrasts Henry's difficulty in communicating with his college-age son, Marty, with Henry's own alienation from his father, who was determined to Americanize him. The wartime persecution of Japanese immigrants is presented well, but the flatness of the narrative and Ford's reliance on numerous cultural clichés make for a disappointing read. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Fifth-grade scholarship students and best friends Henry and Keiko are the only Asians in their Seattle elementary school in 1942. Henry is Chinese, Keiko is Japanese, and Pearl Harbor has made all Asians-even those who are American born-targets for abuse. Because Henry's nationalistic father has a deep-seated hatred for Japan, Henry keeps his friendship with and eventual love for Keiko a secret. When Keiko's family is sent to an internment camp in Idaho, Henry vows to wait for her. Forty years later, Henry comes upon an old hotel where the belongings of dozens of displaced Japanese families have turned up in the basement, and his love for Keiko is reborn. In his first novel, award-winning short-story writer Ford expertly nails the sweet innocence of first love, the cruelty of racism, the blindness of patriotism, the astonishing unknowns between parents and their children, and the sadness and satisfaction at the end of a life well lived. The result is a vivid picture of a confusing and critical time in American history. Recommended for all fiction collections.
—Joanna M. Burkhardt

School Library Journal

Adutl/High School

Henry Lee is a 12-year-old Chinese boy who falls in love with Keiko Okabe, a 12-year-old Japanese girl, while they are scholarship students at a prestigious private school in World War II Seattle. Henry hides the relationship from his parents, who would disown him if they knew he had a Japanese friend. His father insists that Henry wear an "I am Chinese" button everywhere he goes because Japanese residents of Seattle have begun to be shipped off by the thousands to relocation centers. This is an old-fashioned historical novel that alternates between the early 1940s and 1984, after Henry's wife Ethel has died of cancer. A particularly appealing aspect of the story is young Henry's fascination with jazz and his friendship with Sheldon, an older black saxophonist just making a name for himself in the many jazz venues near Henry's home. Other aspects of the story are more typical of the genre: the bullies that plague Henry, his lack of connection with his father, and later with his own son. Readers will care about Henry as he is forced to make decisions and accept circumstances that separate him from both his family and the love of his life. While the novel is less perfect as literature than John Hamamura's Color of the Sea (Thomas Dunne, 2006), the setting and quietly moving, romantic story are commendable.-Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345505347
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/6/2009
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 943
  • Lexile: 850L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.94 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jamie Ford
Jamie Ford is the great-grandson of Nevada mining pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated in 1865 from Kaiping, China, to San Francisco, where he adopted the Western name “Ford,” thus confusing countless generations. Ford is an award-winning short-story writer.
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Read an Excerpt

The Panama Hotel (1986)

Old Henry Lee stood transfixed by all the commotion at the Panama Hotel. What had started as a crowd of curious onlookers eyeballing a television news crew had now swollen into a polite mob of shoppers, tourists, and a few punk-looking street kids, all wondering what the big deal was. In the middle of the crowd stood Henry, shopping bags hanging at his side. He felt as if he were waking from a long forgotten dream. A dream he’d once had as a little boy.

The old Seattle landmark was a place he’d visited twice in his lifetime. First when he was only twelve years old, way back in 1942—“the war years” he liked to call them. Even then the old bachelor hotel had stood as a gateway between Seattle’s Chinatown and Nihonmachi, Japantown. Two outposts of an old-world conflict—where Chinese and Japanese immigrants rarely spoke to one another, while their American-born children often played kick the can in the streets together. The hotel had always been a perfect landmark. A perfect meeting place—where he’d once met the love of his life.

The second time was today. It was 1986, what, forty-plus years later? He’d stopped counting the years as they slipped into memory. After all, he’d spent a lifetime between these bookended visits. A marriage. The birth of an ungrateful son. Cancer, and a burial. He missed his wife, Ethel. She’d been gone six months now. But he didn’t miss her as much as you’d think, as bad as that might sound. It was more like quiet relief really. Her health had been bad—no, worse than bad. The cancer in her bones had been downright crippling, to both of us, he thought.

For the last seven years Henry had fed her, bathed her, helped her to the bathroom when she needed to go, and back again when she was all through. He took care of her night and day, 24/7 as they say these days. Marty, his son, thought his mother should have been put in a home, but Henry would have none of it. “Not in my lifetime,” Henry said, resisting. Not just because he was Chinese (though that was a part of his resistance). The Confucian ideal of filial piety—respect and reverence for one’s parents—was a cultural relic not easily discarded by Henry’s generation. He’d been raised to care for loved ones, personally, and to put someone in a home was unacceptable. What his son, Marty, never fully understood was that deep down there was an Ethel-shaped hole in Henry’s life, and without her, all he felt was the draft of loneliness, cold and sharp, the years slipping away like blood from a wound that never heals.

Now she was gone for good. She needed to be buried, Henry thought, the traditional Chinese way, with food offerings, longevity blankets, and prayer ceremonies lasting several days—despite Marty’s fit about cremating her. He was so modern. He’d been seeing a counselor and dealing with his mother’s death through an online support group, whatever that was. Going online sounded like talking to no one, which Henry had some firsthand experience in—in real life. It was lonely. Almost as lonely as Lake View Cemetery, where he’d buried Ethel. She now had a gorgeous view of Lake Washington, and was interred with Seattle’s other Chinese notables, like Bruce Lee and his own son, Brandon. But in the end, each of them occupied a solitary grave. Alone forever. It didn’t matter who your neighbors were. They didn’t talk back.

When night fell, and it did, Henry chatted with his wife, asking her how her day was. She never replied, of course. “I’m not crazy or anything,” Henry would say to no one, “just open-minded. You never know who’s listening.” Then he’d busy himself pruning his Chinese palm or evergreen—houseplants whose brown leaves confessed his months of neglect. But now he had time once again. Time to care for something that would grow stronger for a change.

Occasionally, though, he’d wonder about statistics. Not the cancer mortality rates that had caught up with dear Ethel. Instead he thought about himself, and his time measured on some life insurance actuarial table. He was only fifty-six—a young man by his own standards. But he’d read in Newsweek about the inevitable decline in the health of a surviving spouse his age. Maybe the clock was ticking? He wasn’t sure, because as soon as Ethel passed, time began to crawl, clock or no clock.

He’d agreed to an early retirement deal at Boeing Field and now had all the time in the world, and no one to share the hours with. No one with whom to walk down to the Mon Hei bakery for yuet beng, carrot mooncakes, on cool autumn evenings.

Instead here he was, alone in a crowd of strangers. A man between lifetimes, standing at the foot of the Panama Hotel once again. Following the cracked steps of white marble that made the hotel look more like an Art Deco halfway house. The establishment, like Henry, seemed caught between worlds. Still, Henry felt nervous and excited, just like he had been as a boy, whenever he walked by. He’d heard a rumor in the marketplace and wandered over from the video store on South Jackson. At first he thought there was some kind of accident because of the growing size of the crowd. But he didn’t hear or see anything, no sirens wailing, no flashing lights. Just people drifting toward the hotel, like the tide going out, pulling at their feet, propelling them forward, one step at a time.

As Henry walked over, he saw a news crew arrive and followed them inside. The crowd parted as camera-shy onlookers politely stepped away, clearing a path. Henry followed right behind, shuffling his feet so as not to step on anyone, or in turn be stepped upon, feeling the crowd press back in behind him. At the top of the steps, just inside the lobby, the hotel’s new owner announced, “We’ve found something in the basement.”

Found what? A body perhaps? Or a drug lab of some kind? No, there’d be police officers taping off the area if the hotel were a crime scene.

Before the new owner, the hotel had been boarded up since 1950, and in those years, Chinatown had become a ghetto gateway for tongs—gangs from Hong Kong and Macau. The city blocks south of King Street had a charming trashiness by day; the litter and slug trails on the sidewalk were generally overlooked as tourists peered up at egg-and-dart architecture from another era. Children on field trips, wrapped in colorful coats and hats, held hands as they followed their noses to the mouthwatering sight of barbecue duck in the windows, hanging red crayons melting in the sun. But at night, drug dealers and bony, middle-aged hookers working for dime bags haunted the streets and alleys. The thought of this icon of his childhood becoming a makeshift crack house made him ache with a melancholy he hadn’t felt since he held Ethel’s hand and watched her exhale, long and slow, for the last time.

Precious things just seemed to go away, never to be had again.

As he took off his hat and began fanning himself with the threadbare brim, the crowd pushed forward, pressing in from the rear. Flashbulbs went off. Standing on his tippy toes, he peered over the shoulder of the tall news reporter in front of him.

The new hotel owner, a slender Caucasian woman, slightly younger than Henry, walked up the steps holding . . . an umbrella? She popped it open, and Henry’s heart beat a little faster as he saw it for what it was. A Japanese parasol, made from bamboo, bright red and white—with orange koi painted on it, carp that looked like giant goldfish. It shed a film of dust that floated, suspended momentarily in the air as the hotel owner twirled the fragile-looking artifact for the cameras. Two more men brought up a steamer trunk bearing the stickers of foreign ports: Admiral Oriental Lines out of Seattle and Yokohama, Tokyo. On the side of the trunk was the name Shimizu, hand-painted in large white letters. It was opened for the curious crowd. Inside were clothing, photo albums, and an old electric rice cooker. The new hotel owner explained that in the basement she had discovered the belongings of thirty-seven Japanese families who she presumed had been persecuted and taken away. Their belongings had been hidden and never recovered—a time capsule from the war years.

Henry stared in silence as a small parade of wooden packing crates and leathery suitcases were hauled upstairs, the crowd marveling at the once-precious items held within: a white communion dress, tarnished silver candlesticks, a picnic basket—items that had collected dust, untouched, for forty-plus years. Saved for a happier time that never came.

The more Henry thought about the shabby old knickknacks, the forgotten treasures, the more he wondered if his own broken heart might be found in there, hidden among the unclaimed possessions of another time. Boarded up in the basement of a condemned hotel. Lost, but never forgotten.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Father- son relationships are a crucial theme in the novel. Talk about some of these relationships and how they are shaped by culture and time. For example, how is the relationship between Henry and his father different from that between Henry and Marty? What accounts for the differences?

 2. Why doesn’t Henry’s father want him to speak Cantonese at home? How does this square with his desire to send Henry back to China for school? Isn’t he sending his son a mixed message? 

3. If you were Henry, would you be able to forgive your father? Does Henry’s father deserve forgiveness? 

4. From the beginning of the novel, Henry wears the “I am Chinese” button given to him by his father. What is the significance of this button and its message, and how does Henry’s understanding of that message change by the end of the novel? 

5. Why does Henry provide an inaccurate translation when he serves as the go-between in the business negotiations between his father and Mr. Preston? Is he wrong to betray his father’s trust in this way? 

6. The United States has been called a nation of immigrants. In what ways do the families of Keiko and Henry illustrate different aspects of the American immigrant experience? 

7. What is the bond between Henry and Sheldon, and how is it strengthened by jazz music? 

8. If a novel could have a soundtrack, this one would be jazz. What is it about this indigenous form of American music that makes it an especially appropriate choice? 

9. Henry’s mother comes from a culture in which wives are subservient to their husbands. Given this background, do you think she could have done more to help Henry in his struggles against his father? Is her loyalty to her husband a betrayal of her son? 

10. Compare Marty’s relationship with Samantha to Henry’s relationship with Keiko. What other examples can you find in the novel of love that is forbidden or that crosses boundaries of one kind or another? 

11. What struggles did your own ancestors have as immigrants to America, and to what extent did they incorporate aspects of their cultural heritage into their new identities as Americans? 

12. Does Henry give up on Keiko too easily? What else could he have done to find her? 

13. What about Keiko? Why didn’t she make more of an effort to see Henry once she was released from the camp? 

14. Do you think Ethel might have known what was happening with Henry’s letters? 

15. The novel ends with Henry and Keiko meeting again after more than forty years. Jump ahead a year and imagine what has happened to them in that time. Is there any evidence in the novel for this outcome? 

16. What sacrifices do the characters make in pursuit of their dreams for themselves and for others? Do you think any characters sacrifice too much, or for the wrong reasons? Consider the sacrifices Mr. Okabe makes, for example, and those of Mr. Lee. Both fathers are acting for the sake of their children, yet the results are quite different. Why? 

17. Was the U.S. government right or wrong to “relocate” Japanese Americans and other citizens and residents who had emigrated from countries the U.S. was fighting in WWII? Was some kind of action necessary following Pearl Harbor? Could the government have done more to safeguard civil rights while protecting national security? 

18. Should the men and women of Japanese ancestry who were rounded up by the U.S. government during the war have protested more actively against the loss of their property and liberty? Remember that most were eager to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States. What would you have done in their place? What’s to prevent something like this from ever happening again? 

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 1850 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 1859 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 3, 2009

    I completely and unashamedly fell in love with this book from the very beginning!

    Hotel on the Corner of Butter and Sweet is Jamie Ford's beautifully written debut about Henry, a Chinese American growing up in Seattle during World War II. Henry struggles with his identity, his stubborn father, and when his best friend, a Japanese American girl, is sent to an internment camp he has to decide between love and loyalty. <BR/><BR/>This book is like a little slice of history complete with the sights, sounds and smells of Seattle during World War II, jazz music, salty sea air, and the sweet taste of duck sausage. There are so many themes touched in this story that it should feel overly crowded: first love, father-son relationships, immigrants, racism, and looming over everything World War II. Yet the story flows around and through Henry seamlessly and it is easy to find yourself deep in his world. <BR/><BR/>I completely and unashamedly fell in love with this book from the very beginning. At first I raced through it eager to see what would become of Henry, later I slowed my progress wanting to prolong my time with him and anxious about his ending. When the end came it was perfect, bitter and sweet, but so satisfying too.

    77 out of 83 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 17, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Review of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

    Wow. I mean.. wow. This is another of those books that you see so much hype about and think there's no way it could be as good as people are saying. Just a moment while I pause and wipe away the tears.

    I've read my fair share of World War II stories. I've seen it from all sorts of angles, but this was the first time I'd seen this side of it. It's so easy to get caught up in what was going on in Germany ( and there's nothing wrong with that) that other things lose the spotlight when they don't deserve to. The treatment of the American Japanese was horrifying and heartbreaking and this book spotlights that in the most intimate of ways.

    This is a love story, most of all. Not your typical harlequin romance, but a story of deep, abiding love. There's patience, hope, despair and more all wrapped up in the love that begins between, of all people, two 12 year old children.

    I read this book only because the book club I plan on attending for the first time tomorrow has chosen it for their book of the month. Even if I don't enjoy the club I'll be thankful to it for introducing me to this story. It's a beautiful one and one I'll be reading again.

    29 out of 29 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 27, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    TRULY AMAZING!

    This book does a terrific job exploring the history and attitudes of this time period and ethnic neighborhoods. This is a story of a culmination of cultures, also politics, loyalty, language, expectations, honor and dreams. The story, set in Seattle, begins in 1986 with the discovery of relics stored in the basement of the Panama Hotel by American citizens of Japanese heritage. These treasures lead Henry Lee, a Chinese American whose best friend was Japanese, to reminisce about that time, in flashbacks to the 40's. Wonderful relationships in Henry and Keiko, Henry and his father, Henry's mother and his father, and Henry and his own son are deep and touching. This story reveals the best and worst in relationships, the way we regard others, and the way we catch ourselves acting like our parents with our own children. This is a truly amazing read!

    Some other special ones: THE LAST CHILD, ON FOLLY BEACH, EXPLOSION IN PARIS, LIFE IN DEFIANCE.

    20 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 4, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    With Love and Loyalty You Cannot Go Wrong

    What a lovely story! I enjoyed this book from cover to cover and found it very moving, inspiring, and touching. The characters jumped off the pages with their diverse backgrounds and various perspectives. This author included heroes and villains, allies and enemies, and with the turn of every page you are enriched with history from one of the darkest moments in Japanese-American history. I think WWII was such a unique event in time in the sense that so many cultural backgrounds were affected and the perspectives from these groups obviously varied on so many levels.

    Henry and Keiko were such lovable characters. You will find yourself routing for them throughout the entire story. You will want to squash the rude white American schoolchildren at Henry's school. You can vividly hear the music that Sheldon plays and you will want to scream at the top of your lungs at the traditionalist viewpoints of Henry's father. You will smell the sea-salty air and taste the bitter sweet ending. Full of emotion, inspiration, and perseverance - this is one of the best historical fiction books I have read!

    14 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 18, 2010

    Wonderful book

    This is a must book - I was sorry to see it end. The characters are wonderful and grow as the book progresses. Henry's mother is portrait with a great sense of love for Henry, his father and her nationality. Every character in the book is someone you have known in your lifetime.
    Unfortunately, 60+years later - we continue to show prejudice to those who are different from us.
    Hoping that Jamie Ford writes another delightful book. Congratulations on your first one.

    14 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 12, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    It's Bitter, It's Sweet, It's a Must Read!

    HOTEL caught my heart, educated me, entertained my mind, and lived on way past the last page. A tale of Henry, a 12 year old Chinese boy who falls in love with a Japanese girl, Keiko.<BR/> <BR/>But the odds are against them, it is set during WWII in Seattle, and their love is a forbidden love. She and her family are herded up and removed to an internment camp, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. <BR/><BR/>HOTEL is more than a love story; it is a generational, father-son story, that emphasizes the differences between culture and era. Ford weaves in a rich emotional backdrop, a tormented time in history, the jazz scene of historic Seattle, and the inevitable human spirit-that even with broken dreams, one keeps moving forward. <BR/><BR/>And so it is also the story of Henry in the 1980s, facing the decisions he made as a teen, the love he lost, and his own generational and cultural differences with his own son. <BR/><BR/>When he walks by a newly renovated hotel during a press conference, he is caught between two worlds upon sight of a koi parasol-one he is certain belonged to his true love, Keiko. It was unearthed in the basement of the hotel, along with the belongings of many Japanese families forced to abandon their lives as they were forced into internment camps. And maybe, in that dusty basement, there would be a connection to his childhood, maybe a part of Keiko was among those belongings...<BR/><BR/>This book will be one you won't forget, and one you will be insisting all your friends read! It is great for all ages and explores a part of history we Americans often try to forget. <BR/> <BR/>It's numerous themes of love and conflict, racism and noble duty embedded with accurate historical context will thrill any book club, as it is perfect for discussion, and easy to read.

    11 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2010

    Bitter and sweet indeed

    This book was just good. At times long and slow but still keeping me interested in the story. Henry's character is very well developed and I really liked how, as his character was developing also was the story. I only gave it three stars because the writing is a little heavy at times, it was almost as if the story and Henry were too much for the writing abilities of the author but...it didn't keep me from liking the story, the setting and characters.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Absolutely wonderful debut read

    The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford<BR/><BR/>The present time is 1986 in Seattle when we are first introduced to Henry Lee, a recently widowed Chinese American. While he witnesses a press conference at the old Panama Hotel, the simple sight of a koi umbrella discovered in the basement by the new hotel owner, takes him back mentally and emotionally more than 40 years to the 1940¿s. Told from his perspective as a man in his mid fifties and flashing back to when he was a boy of twelve, not only is this a coming of age story but it is also a story of the pangs and heartbreak of first love and the enduring essence of friendship. Easily combining a young love story with a war story, Ford weaves a magical tale.<BR/><BR/>Young Henry Lee was caught between two worlds, his American side and his Chinese side. At home from the age of 12 he was told to only "speak your American" and not the Cantonese that his parents spoke. His father, a proud Chinese Nationalist, wanted his son to become Americanized so he sent him to an all white prep school. Unfortunately, Henry found himself ostracized and taunted due to his Chinese heritage. It didn¿t help that his father made him wear an ¿I am Chinese¿ button, thinking it would protect his son from the burgeoning anti Japanese feeling after the attack on Pearl Harbor. When a young Japanese girl, Keiko Okabe, began work in the school cafeteria with Henry, he found acceptance for who he was and it is this friendship that was at the heart of the story and what a wonderful;y bittersweet story it became.<BR/><BR/>Right after President Roosevelt signed the executive order for all Japanese to be rounded up and placed in internment camps, a lot of families hurriedly placed belongings in the basement of the old hotel for storage. Keiko and her family were forced to leave their home taking only what they could carry. Henry was heartbroken as he and Keiko had become very attached to each other despite the anti Japanese sentiments belonging to Henry¿s father and many others in the community of Chinatown. <BR/><BR/>Ford moves the story along seamlessly between the years bringing in age old themes of father-son conflicts. Henry and his father had a hard time communicating as has Henry and his son Marty. Another element of the story is Henry¿s lifelong compassionate and caring friendship with Sheldon, a member of the Seattle jazz scene. The search for a treasured memory from the jazz era is a key component to help Henry open up communications with his son Marty.<BR/><BR/>Ford does an admirable job with his heartbreaking look at racial and cultural discrimination in a time of war, while conversely incorporating characters with giving hearts and compassionate natures. Ford writes with a simple clarity and his wonderful descriptions puts readers right into the location. It¿s so easy to get into the heads of all the characters, I could feel the fear and sense of helplessness from them and almost hear Henry¿s heart beat as he says goodbye to Keiko at the camp. So emotionally charged, it will pull at your heartstrings from beginning to end. I¿m sure this short review does not do this book justice, but suffice it to say, I loved almost every character and the book as a whole.The characters I didn't like was solely because they were simply unlikeable in nature. Jamie Ford is a very talented author of whom I am sure we have not heard the last. If you only read one debut novel this year, it should definitely be this one.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Promise and Hope

    This is a love story with several different slants. It is a young love that lasts in very trying circumstances. It is a love between two people who weren't supposed to love each other. It looks like a love lost.

    The story is told from two points of view. The main character is an aging man who is telling the story that happened forty years before, but the story moves back and forth between the 1940's and the 1980's to give a clear picture, of what actually occurred and how it affected Henry, the main character.

    It is an exploration of the Chinese-American and the Japanese-American culture in the 40's with the Caucasian and Black view points inserted from time to time.

    I found it well researched and a very interesting read as well as a touching story.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    bitter-sweet tale of real people in a wounded world

    As book titles go, Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is intriguing, but long. I wasn't sure what to make of it when I saw the book lying on a friend's table, but I picked it up (I find it hard to resist books) and opened at a random page. Straight away I was transported to a scene where an elderly man is meeting his son, past and present worlds and cultures colliding, missed chances dancing lightly between the words. I was hooked and quickly made my way back to page one, eagerly finishing the book during my visit and telling my friend she really has to read it.
    In 1942, twelve-year-old Henry was the only non-white student attending Raleigh elementary school in Seattle. Since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Henry's father, who spoke only Chinese, forbade his son to speak anything but English in the home, and made him wear a badge declaring "I am Chinese." But that didn't stop white students treating Henry as the enemy, or local Chinese kids mocking him as "white."
    Henry's father would have been appalled to learn that in Japantown, just a few streets away, the Okabe family were deciding to entrust their daughter Keiko to the same school system. Henry's family did not associate with Japanese, not after the way they'd bombed the Chinese homeland over the years.
    Isolation, bullying and shared kitchen duties bring the two Asian American children together. Music and young love binds them. But the country's mis-communications are mirrored at home. Keiko's neighbors, so American they scarcely see differences in ethnicity, are hated, while Henry's family, still planning to complete their son's education back in China, are safe except for the unfortunate shape of their eyes. And the street musician Sheldon waits for a break.
    Henry's father left home at thirteen. As his birthday approaches, Henry ponders the meaning of home and family, and the country goes to war against its own. But in 1986 everything has changed. Possessions left behind by the Japanese are unearthed in an old hotel, reawakening the past and revitalizing the present for Henry and his son. The man who couldn't speak to his father learns at last to speak to his son. Family means more than two parents and an obedient child. And love still crosses those all too human barriers to reveal the music of the soul.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2012

    MyReview of the Week! #1: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

    This was an amazing book! It has me wanting to visit Chinatown and Nihonmachi again (and again and again and again). Since I live around the Greater Seattle Area, this was a great read for me. If you have the chance, go to Seattle's International District. You can see where Henry lived, where the Panama Hotel is, and you can go buy unfortunate fortune cookies! They were so delisious!
    So anyways, the book is about Henry, and it has switching views of when Henry was a kid and adult. I sincerely loved it and recommend it to anyone, old and young!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2010

    Don't Check In.

    Many of my friends raved about this book. I don't know if I should worry more about their lack of literary acumen or my poor choice of companions as I found this novel to be painfully, wrenchingly awful. After the first thirty pages of ghastly writing I was asking myself how in the world the author could have found a publisher. Plugging along through the predictable (at every turn) plot I became depressed at the fact of how many people found this to be a 5 star experience. Just another small indication of what the general public settles for these days in books, films, etc.

    3 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 19, 2010

    I unexpectedly loved this book!

    My book club choose this book and something about it left me unmotivated to begin reading it; maybe it was the title or the subject matter, but I feel in love instantly. It was written in a very free and accessible manner but clearly written by a thoughtful intelligent writer. I did not think I would relate to a young Chinese boy, but I stood beside him throughout his journey and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2010

    Lovely story set in WWII Seattle that is a timely read today.

    If you like historically accurate stories you will thoroughly enjoy this book about a Chinese American boy and his best friend, a Japanese American girl, during 1942. This story itself is a great coming-of-age-tale for Henry. And there were many facinating insights into their cultures, but also insights into the racial profiling and racial prejudices that they endured. Well researched and written. And a very timely read and point of discussion for issues that we are facing today.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 29, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    LOVELY!

    A Beautiful Story of Forbidden Love. is told as a split-narrative, the early years being 1942-45, the final year being 1986. It is the story of a young Chinese boy, Henry who meets and falls in love with Keiko, a beautiful Japanese girl. It is an innocent love that lasts forever. Lovely

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    What An Appropriate TItle

    Some experiences are universal, like the imprint left by first love. Some are not like the tension often felt between immigrant parents and American born children. Ford creates a beautiful and emotional tale on these experiences weaved through the historical events of Japanese internment during World War II.

    Henry, American born to Chinese parents, meets Keiko, the daughter of Japanese parents, at an all-white school in Seattle where both are sent to receive the education many immigrants of the time sought. Henry's family has suffered travesties by Japanese forces in their homeland. Therefore, they bring a prejudice against the Japanese that, combined with the fear they will be mistaken for Japnese, fosters a bitterness for all things Japanese. Henry, having been raised American, is free of these biases. So, when Henry and Keiko are thrust together to face the taunts of their school peers a deep and sincere friendship develops. As conditions for the Japanese-Americans disintegrates Henry and Keiko are faced with the prospect of separation. Years later when the Panama Hotel is bought and rennovation begins personal effects are uncovered and Henry has the opportunity to resolve the past.

    While on the surface this book is a coming of age story set in a historical time period. Dig a little deeper and you will find themes of loyalty, friendships, family tension, and forgiveness.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2012

    Highly Enjoyable

    This was a great read. I recommend it. At times I had trouble putting it down. It is definitely a bitter-sweet story about love in the turbulent times of war.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2012

    Highly recommended

    Im super picky about books and i couldnt put it down, great book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2012

    Loved it!

    What a beautiful amazing book! Not only is it a part of history that I did not know about, there was such an innocence told of first love.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 31, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    No surprises there

    The title of this book struck me first. Followed by the fact it was about the Japanese internment during WWII. I loved that it told a story about an old man and a child (him as a boy). However, I became disappointed about halfway through the book when I could easily tell where it was going and how it would end. It was too predictable for my taste, but I finished it. It ended just as I thought it would, no surprises. This would be a good book for a high school student learning more about the Japanese internment, but not as a novel for an educated adult.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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