Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford

First Book of the Year:

In the opening pages of Jamie Ford's stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.

Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.


  1. So I decided to go ahead and post since I read the book over the holiday break. The book was overall a great read and an excellent selection to start the book club (I guess everyone gets lucky sometimes). I have always been a fan of historical fiction and the book was a stark departure from many of my recent reads (no spacecraft, hidden worlds, or shape-shifters). I also really enjoyed the narative style switching between time periods (reminds me of Water for Elephants). My only reservation about the plot was that I felt he pursued Keiko to the ends of the earth, then suddenly settled for someone else. The shift was a little too abrupt for me, but I guess I just wanted him to wait for Kieko longer. The relationship between the narator, his father, and his son was incredible. The book was truly a glimpse into another historical period and a superbly interesting read. I look forward to reading more by Jamie Ford in the future.

  2. I was most intrigued by the father/son relationships in this book. Without a real reference point for such a relationship, I enjoyed the intricacies of reading about those relationship. I do agree with theEclecticHobbyist in that the change from being in love with Keiko to settling for Ethel was not only "abrupt" as mentioned above, but shocking to the point that I had to re-read to be sure I hadn't missed something. I really like to read historical fiction, especially when it's about what was (maybe still is) such a taboo and unmentioned subject and WWII (my speciality and favorite when it comes to history). A shout out to Rich for the choice, and letting me borrow his book!

  3. I enjoyed the book from multiple views. The father/son relationships (of both generations) were interesting and while hard to understand the absolute control and the extent of effort on his fathers part to control his relationship to Keiko, I found his ultimate ?forgiveness, ?acceptance of same intriguing. Likewise his acceptance of the betrayal of Ethel in the impounding of his letters and apparent lifelong withholding of this information seems remarkable.
    Ultimately it seems to be largely about settling for and accepting things about which you have or had no control - even if bittersweet.
    I also found the historical issue of internment camps for Japanese-Americans very interesting and while rarely discussed and generally condemned, I'm not sure we have changed our response(although certainly not as overt) toward Muslims in the last ten years. I hope everyone enjoys the book as much as I did.

    1. So you do think Ethel was in on the intercepting of the letters between Henry and Keiko? See, that makes me more irritated that he ended up with her. Definitely bittersweet.

  4. I knew I would like this book before I started. I love historical fictional, especially when its set in modern U.S. History. Ford's characters and the father-son relationships made this an especially enjoyable read.

    Great book selection!

  5. I'm a little late getting this read, but Nate was also reading it, so I just got a hold of it a couple of days ago. So far everyone has said they found the father/son relationships intriguing, but I think I would choose the adjective frustrating. Henry and Marty seemed to forge a real relationship and come to a better understanding of each other; however, Henry's father made me furious. I have a hard time with Henry just forgiving him even if he did die because he changed his entire life. I honestly wanted to shake Henry when he chose Ethel. After fighting so long and hard Keiko and now you stay with Ethel to honor your dead dad and not to hurt a post woman's feelings?!?! Seriously. I felt at least a little redeemed when he went to see Keiko in New York at the end, but I couldn't help but be annoyed with the loss of 40 years.
    Every time I read a book about the Japanese internment during WWII I am amazed that it really happened. How our country could fight Hitler for rounding up the Jews and shipping them off, but then we turn around and the do the same. I hope things have changed, but good point about our attitudes towards Muslims after 9/11.
    Overall this was a great first choice. Can't wait for next month!

    1. I wasn't sure that he stayed with Ethel to honor his father, more to be honarable???

  6. Gee Thanks Rich,
    Way to start out the book club with a real upper. Do I need to go buy a box of Kleenex if I am going to be a part of this book club? Just Kidding, I really liked Henry’s Character. He was amazingly strong I liked his ability to do what is right in a situation even if it hurt him. I loved his devotion to Ethel in the face of her illness even when she knew the truth about how his life was sabotaged. Although I am not convinced that she was the one who intercepted all the letters. It just didn’t seem part of her character. I also thought it was very brave of Henry to let his father pass and not show his anger in his final moments. He allowed his father to die in some peace thinking that he did the right thing, allowing some small peace between father and son even if it was not real. I too agree that the marriage proposal was seemed a little too spontaneous, they date for a while and then he goes back to China ?? It just didn’t flow right. I guess through that part of the book I kept reminding myself that Henry and Keiko were only 12 and 13. To my best recollection 13 year old boys really love all 13-year-old girls. BTW my favorite character was Marty’s girlfriend.

  7. I agree with Nate, the only perfect character was Marty's girlfriend. The book should have probably been slightly longer with a better transition to his relationship with Ethel. I did not get the feeling that Ethel intercepted the letters, but interesting thought.

    BTW: theEclecticHobbyist = Grant

  8. I had trouble getting hold of the book here as the trade paperback was withdrawn and the standard paperback was not yet released. I finally ordered the hardback from Amazon and just managed to finish the book on the train home today.
    I also made the mistake of skimming the comments here before I finished, so the discussion about Ethel completely clouded my thoughts for the final third of the book. I kept thinking: you traitorous wretch! However, the book goes to great lengths to discount her involvement in Henry's deception, as without it his choice would have been obvious.
    I still wonder why Keiko never mentioned his "infrequent" letters in her letters? It might have given Henry a clue something was up.
    I was touched most by the various injustices in the book, not just the treatment of the Japanese, but the treatment of anyone different. I was also heartened by the various people in the book who showed small kindnesses: Henry's mother, Mrs Beatty, Oscar Holden, and especially Sheldon. My favourite scene in the book was Sheldon's reaction to the Adventists in Idaho.
    It was a great read, so thanks, Richard. I also like historical fiction ... along with the spaceships, dimensional shifts, and supernatural occurrences. Thanks for including me.

  9. Jeff,

    Sorry I just finished this the other night got caught up in the Follett novel and that takes some time to read. I thought the book was very well written and made you think about how the United States during WWII has some skeletons in the closet. I thought the father/son relationships between Henry's father and his son was intriguing. I found it interesting that Henry's son seemed to think that Henry was much like his father in his views of their chinese heritage and how strongly they should hold on to there past. Makes you wonder what Henry's father was really like since we only know him through Henry's young mind.
    I liked the connection with a jazz scene that I knew nothing about (wouldn't think Seattle is a jazz hotbed).
    I for some reason did not get to emotional about Henry not waiting any longer for Keiko and as described settling for Ethel felt like this was coming the whole time. I do not believe that she helped his father intercept the letters, however not sure how this could be explained away.
    Overall I thought this was a very good book and look forward to reading the next selection, even though i have already read this book but i don't remember it.