January 15, 2012

Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet by Jamie Ford

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Release Date: January 2009
Publisher: Random House | Ballantine Books
Pages: 290 pages
Source & Format: Library; Kindle e-book
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
The Panama Hotel was abandoned, a shadow of its former glory. It was once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown, but it was boarded up long ago. Henry Lee never expected to see a crowd gathering outside one day, and he was even more shocked to learn that the belongings of Japanese families, left before they were rounded up and sent to interment camps during WWII, were discovered.

All it takes is a simple Japanese parasol to take Henry Lee back to his childhood. Now a widower, Henry searches for remnants of his past. The book chronicles his journey to find his voice, and his acceptance of both the bitter and the sweet.

Thoughts on Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
This is one of those books that drew me in immediately. From the title to the cover, I had a feeling this book would be a delightful journey. I had very little idea of what it was about when I started reading it, except that it dealt with WWII.

I was surprised when I realized that it dealt with the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. To be honest, this is an aspect of American history that I have often overlooked in my reading choices. This may be one of the only fictional books I've read about the subject.

This book deals with two different periods of time - 1942 and 1986. By setting up the story this way, Jamie Ford is able to portray Henry Lee at two very different points in his life. While many things change, Henry's devotion and bravery does not.

I loved the story, and I appreciated the way Ford chose to tell the story as a love story. Rather than use the novel as a political tool, he allows readers to form their own opinions about the treatment of the Japanese. The book is, above all, about the characters and their journeys. I love a book that is more character-driven than plot-driven so this book was right up my alley.

The book was well-paced (not too fast or too slow), which I have found can often be a problem in books that are very focused on character development. I was impressed by the simplicity of the novel, and I enjoyed the way a heavy subject was treated with a delicate touch.

If I had one complaint, it's that I think the author missed the boat on some of his fact-checking. The Panama Hotel is a real place, in Seattle, and the belongings of Japanese families were really discovered inside. In his attempt to set the novel in the correct year (1986), Ford makes a few noticeable mistakes. He references Internet chat rooms, finding someone's contact information online, and converting a record to a CD. In 1986, I think almost all of those things would be highly unlikely. However, 1942 was portrayed wonderfully, and his research of this time is evident.

So Quotable
"The hardest choices in life aren't between what's right and what's wrong but between what's right and what's best."

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