Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - A Sweet (not Bitter) Read

Wow, did I like this book (notice that I didn’t use a question mark).  This is already my 2nd 3.5 of the year – and it’s only January 18.  Are you kidding me?  This is another recommendation from my most recent muse, Phil.  He led me to Gone Girl last year, which was in my top 11, along with Baldacci’s The Innocent (top 11), and Defending Jacob (not top 11 but darn good). 

This is not only well done, it’s also a really interesting snapshot of a dark historical period in our history.  The story rotates (which I always like) between 1942 and 1986, in Seattle.  The narrator of the story is a 56-year old Chinese man, Henry Lee, who has lived in Seattle all of his life.  His wife has recently passed away, and Henry took an early retirement after spending all of his working life at Boeing.  Henry has one son, Marty, who is finishing up his college career at Seattle University.  The 2 of them have never communicated that well, but Ethel, Henry’s wife, always mediated.  Now, with Ethel gone, the 2 men find that they don’t have very much in common.

I enjoyed all of the chapters that take place in 1986.  But the 1942 story is totally fascinating.  Henry is 12 years old and has just been placed by his parents in an all-caucasian  school, instead of the Chinese school.  The only other student who doesn’t fit the school’s mold is a 12-year old Japanese girl, Keiko.  They become good friends, partly out of a common bond and partly because they really like each other.

Remember that this is 1942.  I’m not really giving anything away when I tell you that Seattle was a prime area for Japanese internment camps (except that they actually took sick people out of the hospitals!).  Enough said about that.  Just know that the historical sections of this book ring true.  I believe that the author did his research in order to make this as realistic as possible.  And he succeeded – in a big way.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that Jamie Ford, himself, is half-Chinese and has access to resources from that time period.

There are a number of interesting characters in the book, besides Henry and Keiko.  There’s Sheldon, who is a jazz player, and whose career gives us insight into the whole jazz scene of that era.  There’s Henry’s parents, who came from China and who are very traditional.  There’s Keiko’s parents, who were born in America and, yet, are still part of the round-up.  There’s Ethel, of course, and a number of school bullies that do what you would expect school bullies to do.

But with all of that, the relationship between Henry and Keiko totally stands out.  I loved every page that had the 2 of them in it.  I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that it is enormously satisfying.  This is a darn good read and one that I think just about everybody would like.  Go for it. 


  1. I'm so glad that your year is starting off with a bang! So many bloggers have loved this one. I ;ve not been tempted to read it, until now :)

  2. I had 11-3.5's or 4.0's last year. This one is a 3.5. It will definitely be among my top books of the year.