Book: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
My personal enjoyment rating: 3 out of 5 stars (It was only OK)
Book source: Personal copy
Sensitive reader: There is nothing objectionable in this novel.
Henry Lee is caught between loyalty to his family, his country and his dearest friend. As a first generation Chinese-American, Henry is subject to abuse from his fellow classmates for his ethnicity, but at least he is not being forced into “relocation” camps like his fellow Seattle citizens, the thousands of Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans thought to be a threat to the country during this tumultuous time. Henry’s only ally and friend is Keiko Okabe, another 6th grader with whom he develops an enduring friendship.
I was expecting to LOVE this book, due to all the glowing reviews I’ve read. But it fell short for me in many areas.
I thought the story was very predictable: a Romeo/Juliet type romance between two Chinese-American and Japanese American youths. I had a hard time believing that these 12 year olds would develop the very “adult” feelings they were experiencing. I thought the author tried to show that because of their family traditions, relationships could develop at such an early age. But in the end, despite all the uncertainty and tragedy that was happening to them that would normally draw two people together (like a pair of 16 or 17 year olds), I think 12 year olds would be 12 year olds and think the opposite sex still, for the most part, would have cooties.
I also wanted to feel the pain and tragedy of this entire community of people being relocated to areas as far away as Texas, and I didn’t. I thought the author’s narrative and prose was very two dimensional – there was always something missing.
There were also a couple of historical questions of authenticity that I tried to reconcile: During the flash back/flash forward sequencing, a scene set in 1986 had Henry and a vintage record shop owner discussing the restoration of a vinyl record, to which the shop owner replies, “it could only be restored with a laser.” I’m not an expert on vinyl LPs, but were lasers used as a means of restoring anything in the ‘80s? Also, when trying to find Keiko in her mature years, Henry’s son is purported to use his “computer.” Again, the assumption here is that computers were used to “search” for things, and I don’t think they had that capability yet. But, I could be wrong.
Ultimately, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, was an adequate tribute to those who were subject unfair deportation from their homes and deprived of their property, livelihoods, and in many cases, families. I'm still waiting for the complete novel that tells the story and the history of Japanese internment in the United States.
This is a very intersting narrative from the author about the Japanese district in Seattle: