In 1986, Henry Lee joins a crowd outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has discovered the belongings of Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during World War II. As the owner displays and unfurls a Japanese parasol, Henry, a Chinese American, remembers a young Japanese American girl from his childhood in the 1940s--Keiko Okabe, with whom he forged a bond of friendship and innocent love that transcended the prejudices of their Old World ancestors. After Keiko and her family were evacuated to the internment camps, she and Henry could only hope that their promise to each other would be kept. Now, forty years later, Henry explores the hotel's basement for the Okabe family's belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot even begin to measure. His search will take him on a journey to revisit the sacrifices he has made for family, for love, for country.
Pages: 317 (ebook)
Publisher: Published January 27th 2009 by Random House, Inc./Random House Publishing Group
Rating: 10 out of 10
Source: Checked out from Library
Date Completed: April 23, 2013
I had heard good things about Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford from many people and had it on a larger than life to-read list. At one of our book club meetings, one of the members brought it up again and refreshed my excitement. As a person of color, who grew up in the Sikh community, I am particularly tuned into the perception by some that all people of a particular religion and those that look like they may be of a certain religion or from a particular part of the world are terrorists. In the midst of wars, massacres by guns, and explosions, I wanted a hopeful story. I needed to read something that illustrates how something beautiful can come in the midst of so much ugliness.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet delivered. Not only does the story reveal the (sorry for strong language) fucked up practice of condemning a whole group of people based on ethnicity, but Henry's growth and development showcase the difference between what is immoral versus what is illegal. I also appreciated reading about Henry's experience at the (almost) all white school. The choice many immigrant parents make in sending their children to the best school academically at the cost of taking their children away from a familiar community is poignitely illustrated. My other favorite character was Sheldon. He was like a wise uncle to Henry and I loved how he validated and put Henry's feelings into perspective.
In addition to all of these larger social justice themes, there is also a love story that is beautiful and heart breaking to watch unfold. Henry's relationship with Keiko grows from distrust, to acquaintances, to friends and into a courtship. As with most love stories, obstacles and miracles are part of the tale. I wish that we had read this for book club as there is so much to discuss.
I am counting this for the following challenge:
What's in a Name Six: I am counting this for the category of emotion as bitter and sweet are both emotions.