Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet

Sometimes you read a book that stirs you emotionally. And sometimes you read a book that makes you reconsider something that you have always accepted without questions. And other times you find a book that does both.

Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet: A Novel has been such a book for me. In the same way that Katherine Stockett's novel The Help made me reconsider the many sacrifices made by ordinary people for Civil Rights in America and Mary Ann Schaffer's The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society made me ponder what is was like for those countries that were occupied by the Germans during World World II...Jamie Ford's novel about Henry, a Chinese American boy and his Japanese American friend, Keiko, made me stop and contemplate for the first time what happened to the many families who were interred during that same World War right here in America.

I grew up in Arkansas and remember taking Mrs. Avery's Arkansas history class in the 5th grade. As we traveled through the 1940's in the pages of that sienna colored textbook, I vaguely remember the mention of the Japanese Internment Camps in Arkansas. As I looked it up online this evening, I was surprised to find that Arkansas actually had two camps...and they were both in counties that neighbored where I was born and raised.

But, back to the book:

The book is written in a split-narrative; it begins in 1986 with flashbacks to the 1940's (predominately 1942). The setting is Seattle's International District at the height of World War II. Twelve year old Henry is the only Asian student attending a white school on a scholarship. That is until the day that Keiko shows up. Henry is Chinese; Keiko is Japanese...and Henry's father has hated the Japanese since he was Henry's age and Japan invaded his homeland of China.

I felt for Henry as he faced the abuse of his classmates...some physical, but mostly name calling and being ostracized for his ethnicity. And then again, as he is forced to make a choice whether or not to treat Keiko the same way because of his own father's prejudices.

The last line on the back of the book jacket sums up the storyline nicely:
His search will take him on a journey to revisit the sacrifices he has made for family, for love, for country.

My favorite quote from the book?
He'd learned long ago: perfection isn't what families are all about.

To which I can only say, "Amen & Amen".

I highly recommend this book. I know that it seems like a sad story...and I did shed more than a few tears as I turned some of the last few pages. But as its name suggests, there was a sweetness mixed in with the bitter. In an interview with Mr. Ford that is recorded at the back of the book, he is asked why he wrote in both the past and the present. His answer: I wanted to give the book a more redemptive the 40's there really wasn't a way to give it an ending that felt satisfying...after the war was over, it didn't suddenly get better for Japanese American families. Their lives had been completely turned upside down.

Neither did he take a moral stand on whether or not the internment of the Japanese was right or wrong. He only presented the story...and left the reader to draw their own conclusions.

Again, I highly recommend this book. It is 5 star good!

I read this book on the recommendation of Lauren over at Baseballs & Bows...who read it on the recommendation of Carrie over at Reading To Know...who read it on the recommendation of Anna over at Diary of an Eccentric...I think you get the picture. Read it, because it is that GOOD.


Anonymous said...

You mean our family isn't perfect?? I think I will need to make of list of all the books that you have recommended. I just can't keep up.


B said...

you really make me think...i want to read these books yes i need list also. the quotes are awesome!


Jamie Ford said...

Thanks for the review--so glad you enjoyed the book!

(My mom was from Arkansas by the way...)

Wishing you and your family all the best,


Lisa writes... said...

Yes, one of my favorite reads this year as well!

Thanks for your recent visit and comment over at my site! :)

Brenda said...

Awesome Girl!!

Barb @ 1SentenceDiary said...

I *love* it when a book makes you see a whole different perspective. Sounds like a very interesting book.

Have you read "Snow Falling on Cedars"? It has a similar theme, and takes place in the San Juan Islands (right near Seattle).

Thanks for the very interesting review.

Lisa notes... said...

Sounds like this is definitely a book I need to add to my list now. Thanks for the recommendation!