Hotel on the Corner

I will admit, I bought Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford because of the cover but I fell in love with the story almost immediately.

The book follows the story of Henry Lee, a Chinese American in Seattle during World War II. He befriends, Keiko , a Japanese girl whose family is taken away to the internment camps. The book goes between Henry’s life in the 1980s (when he is an old man dealing with the death of his wife and trying to find a connection to his son) and his life in the 1940s (when he was in middle school and the war was something that was happening but not understood).

I read in an interview that Ford tired to write the novel without judgment, but to relay what happened and let the reader determine what was right or wrong. He does so wonderfully. Henry’s father, a Chinese man who hates the Japanese for their invasion of China and treatment of his people, cheers on the events of America’s actions against the Japanese, all the while never realizing Henry does not feel the same. Henry and his father are unable to communicate. His father has forbidden him to speak Cantonese and yet he does not speak English.

Ford does a brilliant job of showing the contrast of cultures, points of views, responses. Henry is confronted with being a Chinese person in America vs. being an American (the way Keiko and her family see themselves).

The book is sweet and honest, raw and reflective of a shift in our country, and of how prejudice can be so damaging and blind. We hate entire races for the actions of a few. How is our blind hatred alive today?

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