Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Of the 6 books I read while on my recent vacation, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is the only one I can recommend wholeheartedly. Rarely does a book elicit a visceral response from me - but this one did. It made me cry. The best part of the is book is that Jamie Ford's writing is so subtle it made me forget I was reading. I was simply along for the ride. Sometimes while reading a really good book I'll be thinking, "this is a terrific book. I'm going to write a book review of it." Not Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I didn't even think of it subjectively until I finished it. Then I said (out loud while sitting by the pool) - "What an amazing story." And that is the strength of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. The story. No lyrical prose or gorgeous language, no clever plot devices, no surprise ending. Just a wonderful story, simply told. To me, that is the sign of a talented author. I'm anxious to read more from Jamie Ford.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet tells the story of Henry and Keiko, two 12 year olds living in Seattle in 1942 - the height of WWII. Henry, who is Chinese and Keiko, who is Japanese are the only non-whites attending Rainer Elementary School. Because they are both there on scholarship, they meet and become friends while working in the school cafeteria. Both find refuge from the taunting of their schoolmates in their friendship and in their shared love of jazz music. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Keiko's family, along with the hundreds of other Japanese families living in Seattle's Japantown, is evacuated to an internment camp "for their own protection". Eventually Henry loses contact with Keiko, but he never forgets her.

But Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is about so much more than Henry and Keiko's friendship. It's about Henry's life as the only son of a proud Chinese family. It's about Seattle's fledgling jazz scene and the power of music to bind people together. It's about the difficult experiences of discrimination and prejudice faced by people who are considered to be "outsiders". But, at its heart, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is about hope and memories. Memories of people who have touched our lives and been lost to time...and hope that we will find some small way to keep those memories alive.

I would give Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
4 STARS (I really liked it).

Image from Google images.


  1. Thanks for the review! Have a great weekend!

  2. I just started reading this book, thanks to your recommendation. I'll weigh in when I'm done!

  3. Madge - Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

  4. I finished this book last week, and I still think about it. To me, this story was an illustration of how you can have a fulfilling and happy life even if you have strayed from what you were "meant" to do.

    I seem to be on a WWII theme these days, having also just finished "Sarah's Key." The Japanese internment is not a part of our history that we are proud of, but it is good to be reminded of it. I still remember seeing pictures in my middle-school history text of the Japanese lined up with their suitcases. It was satisfying to have that picture come to life, and in such a unique way... as told from the perspective of a Chinese boy!

    It was also a very sweet love story.

    The mental picture of the hotel with all the Japanese belongings still in the basement is one I will not soon forget.

  5. So glad you liked the book, Madge! And I agree that the image of the Japanese belongings in the basement of that hotel was a powerful one.

    On a different note, I've heard good things about Sarah's Key as well. I haven't read it yet, but hope to at some point. Like you, I've read an awful lot of WWII books lately and I feel like I need to read about something else.


I try to respond to every comment, so be sure to check back.