Rating: 4.5 / 5
HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET by Jamie Ford is a book that I had planned to use for a reading challenge prompt last year, but I switched it out at the last minute when a book I was already reading met the requirement. I recently obtained a copy of the book, so the Reading Rush prompt to read a book you meant to read last year seemed the perfect incentive to finally pick it up!
It is 1986 in Seattle and Henry is a recent widower trying to figure out what his life is now that the wife he has been caring for has passed away. He is front and center in a crowd of spectators as the new owners of the Panama Hotel discover what’s inside. The hotel has been boarded up for decades. Inside, the owners discover the belongings of Japanese families forced to leave nearly everything behind to relocate to internment camps during World War II. Seeing a Japanese parasol revealed among the items discovered, Henry flashes back to his own World War II years.
Henry was the only Chinese-American boy attending his school. Attending on scholarship and working the lunch line, Henry is picked on and bullied. As anti-Japanese sentiments rise, Henry gets caught up in the prejudice against all Asians. Henry meets Keiko, a Japanese-American girl dealing with similar issues, though to a greater extent. They form a close friendship and innocent, young love amid the growing tensions in the world and Henry’s father’s own hatred of the Japanese. Keiko’s family is among those who must go to the internment camp, separating the pair in a cruel way.
I am very glad that I finally got a chance to read this book as it was a beautiful story! I feel like there is a LOT of WW2 historical fiction, but most that I have read have really been based in Europe during the war. Being from the west coast myself, we certainly learned some about the horror of the internment camps, but it is an area that I hope to read more about.
Having a story set in two time periods with chapters going back and forth to two intersecting story lines can sometimes be a bit hit or miss for me. Sometimes I find myself really connecting to one narrative and rushing through the alternate chapters to get back to the time period I want to read. With this book, the full story kept me hooked to see what happened to Henry and Keiko.
This is a period of time that I definitely feel like I should explore more in my reading and HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET is a book that I’m glad to have read!