Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Finished: Jan. 17, 2009
First Published: Jan. 27, 2009
Genre: Literary Fiction
Reason for Reading: I received a copy form the publisher, Random House Canada.
Old Henry Lee stood transfixed by all the commotion at the Panama Hotel.
Comments: Henry Lee's wife has been dead for six months when he comes upon a crowd outside an old hotel that has been boarded up since the war years. The belongings of about 40 families that were sent to Japanese internment camps have been found in the basement. Henry remembers his past.
The book switches narrative from the present (well, 1985) to Henry's past when he was a boy of twelve. He met a Japanese girl the same age and they became friends but Henry's father was a staunch Chinese Nationalist and considered all Japanese the enemy since Japan had been attacking China for the last ten years.
This is a beautiful book. Beautifully written with a beautiful story to tell. It is a tale of friendship and enemies, love and hate, two very different families and the children who fall in love. Almost like World War II version of Romeo and Juliet. The story is bittersweet, hence the title, and the characters of Henry, his father, and Keiko, the American-born Japanese girl are fully realized.
I found the historical aspect fascinating. I often read World War II stories from a Chinese point of view and this was quite unique. The story was riveting and a page-turner that I couldn't put down. I don't usually read love stories, especially unrequited love, but the tale told here is simply beautiful and much more than just a love story.
The only quibble I have is that the author tried to present an unbiased point of view in regards to the Japanese internment camps and while he succeeded I would have liked a little more background on the "why?" of the situation for readers who know nothing of the Japanese atrocities of WWII. It was very briefly referred to but a little more information would have presented a truly balanced point of view.
In all, this is a wonderful tale and will be truly enjoyed by anyone who enjoys a good WWII story or Asian fiction.