Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

It sure looks like February is seeing me read a lot more adult books. I just finished Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford and LOVED it. I could have finished it in one sitting if I hadn't had to go to work or pay attention to my kids. This book is also one of them on the list for the World War II challenge I signed up for in January. So, one book read, 4 more to go in that challenge.
Ford's novel is set in different time periods alternating between 1942 and 1986 most of the time. Henry is a twelve year old Chinese American boy living in Seattle in 1942. His father wants him to be American yet has Henry wear a button stating 'I am Chinese' each day. The white school he attends is hard for Henry who does not fit in. When he meets Keiko a Japanese American girl on scholarship like him, the two become fast friends, spending a great deal of time together serving lunches in the cafeteria and cleaning after school. Keiko and her family are sent to an internment camp and Henry continues to befriend her despite his father's hatred of the Japanese. The two vow to find each other after the war, yet as the years pass, Keiko's letters become more infrequent and they never do reunite.
In 1986 shortly after Henry's wife Ethel dies the Panama Hotel which had once been located in the Japanse district of Seattle is sold and it is discovered the basement housed many items for Japanese American families. Henry decides to go through the basement, knowing it is where Keiko's family stored their things, hoping for some sign. When his son Marty and Marty's fiancee Sam help him with this task they learn more about Henry's childhood than he had ever revealed to Marty before. Both Marty and Sam encourage Henry to try and find Keiko, to know what happened to her.
This is a beautiful story and I loved each and every page. While the ending is satisfying, there are also things Ford left up to the reader's imagination. So far this year, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is one of my favorite reads.

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