Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

A Novel

Book - 2009 | 1st ed
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"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. 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"
Publisher: New York : Ballantine Books, c2009
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780345505330 (alk. paper)
0345505336 (alk. paper)
Branch Call Number: FIC FORD
Characteristics: 290 p. ; 25 cm


From Library Staff

A young Chinese boy in Seattle falls in love with a young Japanese girl...who is then sent away to an internment camp.

Many years after the Japanese Internment, a Chinese man remembers his Japanese friend.

A Chinese-American boy and a Japanese-American girl become friends...and then planes bomb Pearl Harbor.

Ford's bestselling debut, filled with historical details, tells the story of two young immigrants - one Chinese, one Japanese - in Seattle during World War II.

KCLSRecommends Oct 22, 2014

A bestselling novel, primarily set in Seattle, about the love and friendship between a Chinese American boy and a Japanese American girl during the internment in World War II.

From the critics

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Nov 03, 2019

This story of a new friendship between two teens of different nationalities, Chinese & Japanese from 1942 to current. Their friendship faces challenges that are hard for the teens to handle. The hardest is the internment of one that eventually severs their friendship. Their lives go on until one realizes they need to confront their past live.

Much of what was written about Seattle is very familiar. The prejudice that many Asians was real and documented in real life was minor in the story. It's an easy story to read with no twists or turns. Overall, it is a sad story but the title is very appropriate.

Aimee M Trudel
Sep 17, 2019

Jan's recommendation NF

Jul 29, 2019

I thought I was reading a Disney script for an after school special. Without explanation, someone would come to Henry’s aid. Or not. He was OCD about Keiko. Henry was way to young to be dealing with some adult problems. But I finished the book.

Jul 08, 2019

July WPL Book Club Selection: Sweet book! Absolutely loved this story....<3 Favourite book so far this year

May 02, 2019

I had known of the Japanese internment camps during WW2 but this book helped to make it real and gave me insight. It’s an old-fashioned love story à la Romeo and Juliet, rather sentimentally told and sugar coated. I appreciated the theme about “home” – what is it? where is it? how we can never go back to that remembered sense of home. But while the content is admirable and interesting for its authenticity, Ford’s writing style is simplistic and repetitive, as if he wants to make sure we "get it." I’m a stickler for good writing. I’m glad I read it but not sure I’d recommend it.
A quote I liked: ”I try not to live in the past, but the past lives in me.”

Feb 26, 2019

i read this book to fulfil the goal read a book that contains the worlds salty, sweet, bitter or spicy in the title. It was a bit slow going at first, but i enjoyed it at the end. it is a fiction work, but contains some true elements.

Dec 10, 2018

DNF @ 45%. I almost made it the whole year without DNFing (Did-not-finish) a book. I decided that rather than slog through this story (which I believe has a rather predictable ending) I would call it quits, put it down and move on to something else I actually enjoyed. I couldn't bring myself to give this book a 1 star, even though I didn't finish it- because it's not TERRIBLE. It's just boring, repetitive and trying way too hard to be something that it's not. This story would have been fabulous as a novella or as part of a short story compilation. It feels too long and bloated for its own good, to be very honest. The emotions and feelings are there, but as the novel drags on and the same scenes are replayed over and over, it seems like the author is playing the same notes expecting the same responses. Yes, this child is bullied for being of Asian descent. His friend gets taken away to an internment camp because she's Japanese. The war is going on and there are foods being rationed, and fear is everywhere. This is all too true, and harsh, and accurate, but would have certainly been more poignant and powerful as a chord played once, rather than a child mangling a piano for five minutes.

IndyPL_SteveB Nov 26, 2018

This is a moving novel of American history, racial divides, and family.

In 1986, widower Henry Lee is standing in front of an abandoned Seattle hotel, when the new owner brings out a Japanese parasol, left behind from World War II. His memories flash back to 1942, when he was the only Chinese-American student in the white middle school and his best friend was Keiko, the only Japanese-American girl at that school. As Ford spins out his tale, Henry for the first time tells his son of his own family conflicts with his conservative father over his friendship with Keiko.

You will see World War II from an entirely different perspective than you have ever imagined it before. Of course the Japanese families were hated because of the war and were soon placed into what were essentially prison camps. But the Chinese families had nearly as much prejudice against them as Asians, even though the Chinese were our allies against the Japanese. Ford does an excellent job of portraying the complexities of these relationships and of the mixed emotions of sorrow and happiness.

It is the story of friendship, love, and relationships as told by a 50+ year old second-generation Chinese-American. This wonderful piece of historical fiction seamlessly flows between the 1940’s and 1986, as it delves into the effects, and the aftermath, of the Japanese internment in the Seattle area. Ford does an exceptional job of exploring the history and attitudes of the time, with unique insight into the generational and racial views surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbour, and the consequences of being a minority in a very American setting. Whether you are a sucker for great historical fiction, want a quick cultural history lesson, or one of those that remember the rollercoaster that is first love, book a room at the Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and stay a while! (submitted by JF)

Jul 27, 2018

Heartbreaking (though heartwarming by the end) and relevant in today’s political climate. Also, great descriptions of local Seattle areas during different historical periods.

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Oct 23, 2016

blue_dog_8329 thinks this title is suitable for 10 years and over

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blue_raven_28 thinks this title is suitable for 11 years and over

Jun 19, 2012

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Add a Summary
Jul 02, 2013

This is a beautifully written book showing both the pain and beauty of love, music & friendship among the challenges of assimilation, discrimination and war.

Jun 19, 2012

A young Chinese-American boy befriends a Japanese-American girl who is displaced into a Japanese-American Interment camp.


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Oct 23, 2016

"Thank you and you have a fine day sir" -Sheldon and Henry

Jan 23, 2011

The hardest choices in life aren't between what's right and what's wrong but between what's right and what's best.


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