Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
With such an incredible title, I expected more from this book. It’s as if Mr. Ford exerted all of his creative energy in tantalizing the reader with the promise of something profound. This is a sweet love story, a coming of age story, a classic conflict between father and son story, all rolled into an adequate effort. Hotel is a bittersweet tale of young love lost set in the backdrop of Seattle during World War II just as Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
Henry, a native-born American of Chinese ancestry, filters his perceptions of his family, his identity, and his sense of right and wrong through the lens of honor, duty, and loyalty. Those bedrocks of Chinese culture are stretched to the breaking point for Henry when he falls for Keiko, a native-born American of Japanese ancestry.
In Seattle, Washington, during WWII, a relationship between a Chinese boy and Japanese girl was unthinkable. Geographical, cultural, and social, the barriers between the two young people were insurmountable until both of their fathers sent them to an all-white prep school on scholarship. The survival of the two outcasts in a hostile environment bonds Henry and Keiko. Although her parents accept the relationship, Henry’s father objects strongly enough to interfere with the young lovers. The two are separated when Keiko and her family are “evacuated” to an Internment Camp in Idaho.
The inciting incident in 1986 is the renovation of an old hotel in the area of Seattle that used to be the Japanese district. When Henry learns of the discovery in the basement of items belonging to Japanese internees, he decides he must find something there that belonged to Keiko. The story flip-flops between Henry’s memories of 1942 and his current life in 1986. As with Henry and his father before him, there is a strain between Henry and his son Marty. It seems some things do pass down from generation to generation. The common quest to find Keiko’s belongings finally bonds Henry with his son and helps Henry understand the actions of his deceased father better.
Other reviewers have addressed the numerous anachronisms in the sections set in 1986. Truthfully, I didn’t catch them. I was so engrossed in the underlying story I didn’t notice. That’s not say Mr. Ford’s voice or writing style was compelling or page-turning. As I said before, the story telling is adequate if not a little overly simplistic and sentimental at times. The premise alone kept me reading, despite some of Mr. Ford’s plot devices stretching the limits of credibility.
I would have given the book three stars had it not been for the underlying bittersweet nature of Henry’s undying love for Keiko, even years later after having lived his entire adulthood with another woman. I’m a sucker for a sweet love story. Mr. Ford did enough research on race relations during that era of American history to give the often used bittersweet story of forbidden love lost plot line a new spin.
Overall, it was an enjoyable read. Not necessarily a page-turner, but a good solid read-it-when-you-have-a-spare-minute sort of read.
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