Happy Memorial Day everyone! I am happy to be Jamie Ford’s tour host today as part of his Pump Up Your Book Promotion blog tour. I won a signed ARC copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet from Marcia at The Printed Page last year and have been looking for an opportunity to read it ever since. When Tracee asked if I would like to be a tour host, I jumped at the chance. I didn’t realize that today was a holiday when I committed, but in actually it’s the best possible date for this novel because today we remember those who fought for and served our country throughout the years.
Thank you Jamie and Tracee!
Henry Lee is an unassuming man in his 50s who has lived in Seattle most of his life. His wife Ethel has recently passed away from cancer and he finds himself free to reminisce about his life during the “war years.” He was born to a traditional Chinese couple who, although they lived and supported the United States, were Chinese first. What they wanted for their only son is what feels like being torn in half by so many first generation Americans – to grow up being totally American while being totally Chinese. It is all that much more difficult during WWII, when he had to wear a button announcing his race so as not to be mistaken for being Japenese. To make his parents happy, he goes “scholarshipping” at a caucasion school. He never fit in, until a Japenese girl named Keiko started “scholarshipping” with him. Their friendship began while serving food to the other students and grew as they discovered a shared love for jazz. Their world is torn apart after Keiko and her family are forcibly evacuated and Henry’s parents learn of his relationship with the enemy. When, the Panama Hotel undergoes renevations in 1986, the new owner discovers a basement full of family mementos from Japenese families forced to leave the city. Can what is found in there help Henry find peace in his decisions he made during and after the war and find a way to bridge the gap between him and his only son Marty?
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a story about men and their relationships. You have Henry in his youth struggling in his relationships with his father, the bullies at his caucasion school, they way he should feel about his country, and the still steady influences from his father’s homeland. He also has positive relationships with Sheldon, the black jazz street musician who teaches him how to survive as an American minority, with Keiko and her family, and Mrs. Beatty, the caucasion lunch lady who isn’t as tough and uncaring as she would make herself out to be. The older Henry still has not come to terms with the outcomes of some of those relationships. He doesn’t quite get over his differencess with his father until he realizes that through his son’s eyes that he is not that much different. There was one thing I wish that I could have told Henry from the very beginning. I would tell him not to feel guilty or less loyal to Ethel because he wants to move on by way of taking care of the past. A man who so lovingly and carefully takes care of his wife as she dies of cancer has nothing for which to feel guilty.
The strength of this novel for me were the scenes where Henry remembers history taking place. I felt the great pain of those who believed the need to burn or otherwise destroy family pictures to keep themselves safe from coming under suspicion with the American govenerment. I could feel the panic and anxiety experienced by the Japenese families being forced to leave behind their homes and belongings while their fellow citizens cheered. Best of all were the feelings of relief and joy felt when VJ Day was announced. After living through such a long period of war, the people needed that celebration. Perhaps it would have been taking on too much, but I was surprised that the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were not mentioned. I would have liked to have seen the emotions that Henry experienced when he found out what happened, especially if he was told by his father.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet told a story about World War II I had never read before and it was set in a city I would love to visit. I enjoyed this novel, but it didn’t engage my imagination the way that I had anticipated that it would. As much as I liked Henry, Keiko, Sheldon, and Marty the story felt like it was at an arm’s distance from me, as if I were sitting at the breakfast table along with Henry and his father. Jamie Ford has a unique voice and and he used it well in this debut novel. I felt the details of Chinese and Japenese culture were interesting and added depth to the story. There were times when I was fully engaged, such as when Kenry and Keiko try to listen to Sheldon play with Oscar Holden at the Black Elks Club and when Henry visits Keiko at the internment camps. Stll, I never got to the point where I couldn’t put it down. I had heard such wonderful things about this novel and assumed that I would devour it ravenously. I wonder how my reading experience might have been had I only gone by the description? Sometimes expectations and anticipation can put undue burden on a book. Have you ever experienced that?
This book was also read as part of my War Through The Generations 2009 Challenge.
To buy this novel, click here.