This is a love story between Henry Lee, Chinese American and Keiko Okabe, Japanese American set in 1942, with a shift between the past and the present 80s. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 and anti-Japanese sentiment was on the rise. So much so that Henry was told to wear a button on his jacket “I am Chinese”. The back drop of the story is Seattle with its Japanese (Nihonmachi) and Chinese neighborhoods. All of this with a sprinkling of jazz music to tie it all together.
Reading along you will discover the hatred of Americans towards Asians in general, but specifically towards Japanese no matter how integrated they were in the community because of the Japanese’s participation in World War II. The wounds of the war trickled down to the depths of the average American – refusing to serve them in shops, confining them to their neighborhood with strict curfews, firing them from their jobs,etc. All this until they were finally rounded up and bused off to “relocation centers”. Beyond these hostilities an unlikely friendship was made between young Henry and Sheldon, a black man who is twice Henry’s age and who plays the saxophone on street corners for pocket change. This life long friendship was a constant for Henry and was a sort of second family for Henry. Sheldon was full of wise and helpful advice for Henry.
I won’t go into anymore details because it’s tempting and I feel as if I’ve told you too much already. It’s just a beautifully written story that you must experience for yourself. It encompasses many various themes of literature like immigrating, loyalty, honor, the roles of mothers and wives, but particularly the father-son relationship. Moreover, Jamie Ford’s remarkable debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, has had much recognition since it was published in 2009. It’s been on many selections: IndieBound NEXT List, Borders Original Voices, Barnes & Noble Book Club, Pennie’s Pick at Costco, a Target Bookmarked Club Pick, and a National Bestseller, and named the #1 Book Club Pick for Fall 2009/Winter 2010 by the American Booksellers Association.
“Sentimental, heartfelt….the exploration of Henry’s changing relationship with his family and with Keiko will keep most readers turning pages…A timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don’t repeat those injustices.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“Jamie Ford’s first novel explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans in the Seattle area during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love. An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut.”
— Lisa See, bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
I didn’t see the fab critics when I decided to read this book, but hope the ones above and mine will win you over.. This was one of my book club’s picks for 2011-2012. I’m very delighted that I had a chance to read this book. It left me feeling like the title “bitter and sweet” and taught me some more about my American history. My book club met up yesterday to discuss the book and for once we were a full house and all in agreement with a lot about the book. That was an amazing first too. I can tell you with all the different ages, backgrounds, jobs, and likes in general in the room a big thumbs up from everyone tells you that you will love it too! Look out for Jamie Ford’s second novel in 2013.
Check out the link below for some pictures about World War II on the internment of Japanese Americans.