Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

I read this novel for my September book club meeting. Set during World War II and the 1980's, it moves back and forth relating the story of Henry, a Chinese boy who lives in Seattle. In 1942, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Henry is a sixth grader who attends a predominately white prep school. Bullied and ostracized by his classmates, he is often mistaken for a Japanese student, until his father makes him wear an "I am Chinese" button on his coat. He works in the school cafeteria during lunch and one day a new student, Keiko, joins him. Keiko is Japanese and Henry is wary of befriending her because of his father's intense hatred for Japan. However, they quickly form a relationship and become fast friends. The novel then tells the story of Keiko's forced imprisonment in an interment camp in Idaho and Henry's desire to maintain their friendship while she is gone. We also learn of Henry's broken relationship with his parents, especially his father, because of his love for Keiko and his refusal to go to China to attend school. A heartbreaking tale of lost love and unfulfilled desires, it does have a somewhat sweet ending. It is truly bittersweet. I enjoyed reading about the experience of immigrants in Seattle during the '40's and I was pleased to realize that it is entirely clean with no swearing or sex.

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