Book Reviews: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
by Jamie Ford
★★★★☆

I've always been fascinated by the Japanese internment camps during WWII. There's something about it that's so disturbing. Whenever I read a book about it I'm always left thinking, surely this didn't happen in America, elsewhere maybe, but not the land of the free. Perhaps that's why this book resonated with me.

Henry is a Chinese-American widower trying to find his footing after his wife's death in 1986. Then a local hotel reopens after decades of sitting empty and the new owner announces she's found hundreds of personal items in the hotel's basement. They all belong to Japanese-Americans interred during WWII and have been left, unclaimed, for years.

The story flashes back and forth between Henry's life in 1986, where he has recently lost his wife, and his life in the 1940s, when his best friend, a Japanese girl named Keiko, is taken to an internment camp. Henry's own father is a harsh man filled with prejudices against the Japanese and he forces his views upon his family.

Ford's story is such an original take on internment camps. The whole situation is shown from the point-of-view of a Chinese-America. He's a man of Asian decent, spared from this horrible situation, but still persecuted by ignorant Americans who assume he is Japanese.

I loved how the story switched back in forth in time, allowing the reader to see how Henry turned out and the events that lead him there. The plot culminates on VJ day in a haunting bittersweet scene. The book is in part a love story, but the more importantly it is the story of friendship that rises above racial prejudice despite the worst possible circumstances. I'd highly recommend it.

p.s. Aren't the title and the cover just wonderful too!

3 comments:

Shelley (Book Clutter) said...

I enjoyed this one too--I could see it as making a good movie.

Alexandra said...

That is definitely a cover (and title) that would make me pick it up.

I'm ashamed to admit that I had never hear of internment camps until now (your good deed of the day?). I'll just pop over to Wikipedia now.

Avid Reader said...

Shelley - I agree, this would make a wonderful movie.

Alexandra - I remember the first time I heard about the camps, a few years ago, I was horrified. I think the most disturbing thing is how our country has tried to hush it up.