I had heard good things about Jamie Ford’s novel, his first I believe, so I was excited to check it out from my library. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet tells the story of Henry Lee, a Chinese American living in Seattle, both in the present (1986) and in the past (1940’s). A downtown hotel is being remodeled and during renovations some belongings of Japanese Americans, deported to interment camps, are found. This opens up memories for Henry, a recent widow, of his teenage years in Seattle and his first love, a Japanese American girl named Keiko.
Parallel in this story is the depiction of Henry’s past relationship with his own father and his current relationship with his adult son. However, I found Henry’s relationship with Keiko to be the heart of this book. Their young love is heart-breakingly portrayed. His pain at Keiko’s forced relocation to a camp and his determination to help her is touchingly rendered. Henry’s experience as a Chinese American scholarship student at an all white school, along with the prejudice and bullying he endures, is vividly portrayed as well.
I found I enjoyed reading about Henry’s life as a teen more than I enjoyed the current day story of Henry and his son, sifting through the things found at the hotel for a link to Keiko. In my opinion, the novel ended quickly and very “neatly”, but what can I say? I love a happy ending!
I would recommend this book to those who enjoy reading of this time period and of the Chinese American and Japanese American experiences.
I would give this book 4 Stars!