I would like to start out by saying thank you to Lucybird’s book blog for reviewing this gem, because if I hadn’t seen it there, I am not sure I would have ever found this book!
Synopsis (from amazon)
‘You just gave me hope, Henry. And sometimes hope is enough to get you through anything’
1986, The Panama HotelThe old Seattle landmark has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made a startling discovery in the basement: personal belongings stored away by Japanese families sent to interment camps during the Second World War. Among the fascinated crowd gathering outside the hotel, stands Henry Lee, and, as the owner unfurls a distinctive parasol, he is flooded by memories of his childhood. He wonders if by some miracle, in amongst the boxes of dusty treasures, lies a link to the Okabe family, and the girl he lost his young heart to, so many years ago.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is about the best book I have read in so long! Each morning I couldn’t wait to get onto the bus so that I could re-connect with Henry, but all too soon I would arrive at work – much to my disgust! The ride home was just as just as great and passed just as quickly. So much so, that on 3 separate occasions I missed my bus stop because I was so engrossed in the book! I absolutely loved Henry!
Admittedly I didn’t know a lot about the Japanese side of the war, the internment, the way they were treated, the impact that it had on communities across the USA. I learned a lot reading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet & I think that Ford’s use of a Chinese boy, an outcast, was the perfect choice of character to tell this story.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet is the story of Henry Lee, the son of Chinese immigrants living in Seattle, Washington. Henry is the story’s narrator & his story takes place in the present (1986) and Henry’s childhood, during WWII.
When he is 12, Henry’s father decides that Henry needs to begin attending an English school, so Henry goes “Scholarshiping”, where he is initially the only non-white student. This decision brings about great change in Henry’s life, with his family, his friends & Henry’s own way of looking at everything.
Once admitted to the English School Henry’s father forbids him to speak Cantonese, his native language, thereby making it virtually impossible for Henry to communicate in his own home, because his parents don’t speak English. As the days pass, Henry becomes more & more lonely, taunted at school by the school’s bullies, taunted by his former Chinese friends, for being a White Dragon – a Chinese who acts like they are white. Suddenly Henry doesn’t fit anywhere & it seems as though he is destined to spend the rest of his childhood alone & in practical silence – until Keiko Okabe also joins the school.
The rest of the story follows Henry’s attempts to reconcile his past, which came flooding back when he sees the recovered belongings of the Japanese families, from the basement of the Panama Hotel; and his desire to find a way to tell his son about this same past, especially so soon after his wife Ethel has died, hoping that his son will understand.
I thought that Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was such a rich account of a very sad, shameful time in American history, when fear overrode common sense. It was a beautiful story, one I have been telling everyone I know that they should pick it up & read it. I think that it would make an amazing movie, but I’m not sure, unfortunately, that it’s a story that Hollywood is yet ready to tell. Maybe we can convince George Takei ro take it up as a pet project & maybe even direct it!