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.
We are in the center of Paris, in an elegant apartment building inhabited by bourgeois families. Renée, the concierge, is witness to the lavish but vacuous lives of her numerous employers. Outwardly she conforms to every stereotype of the concierge: fat, cantankerous, addicted to television. Yet, unbeknownst to her employers, Renée is a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. With humor and intelligence she scrutinizes the lives of the building's tenants, who for their part are barely aware of her existence.
Then there's Paloma, a twelve-year-old genius. She is the daughter of a tedious parliamentarian, a talented and startlingly lucid child who has decided to end her life on the sixteenth of June, her thirteenth birthday. Until then she will continue behaving as everyone expects her to behave: a mediocre pre-teen high on adolescent subculture, a good but not an outstanding student, an obedient if obstinate daughter.
Paloma and Renée hide both their true talents and their finest qualities from a world they suspect cannot or will not appreciate them. They discover their kindred souls when a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu arrives in the building. Only he is able to gain Paloma's trust and to see through Renée's timeworn disguise to the secret that haunts her.
Pages: 325 (paperback)
Publisher: Published September 2nd 2008 by Europa Editions
Rating: 8 out of 10
Source: Borrowed from a friend
Date Completed: April 21, 2013
While I cannot pinpoint where, I had heard enough good things about The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, Alison Anderson that I kept nominating the story for book club. In August, one of the other members was kind enough to lend me her copy. It took me nine months to finish the book!
The characters were interesting and funny, but the pace of the book was slow for me. Things began to pick up about half way through. I kept going because of the promise that when you finished, you would find that it was a worthwhile journey. Sure enough, with the appearance of Ozu, I could not put the book down. I loved the exploration of class and the search for meaning. I appreciated the observations and sass of Paloma. I liked her endpoint the best. At the risk of sounding cliche, her friendships with Renee and Ozu really did make her a better person. My favorite character was Renee. Her passion for the arts, particularly literature and film, combined with the keen observations she makes about the tenants made me smile.
As predicted, the last quarter of the book was amazing. After I finished the last page, I felt so sad that it was over. I was surprised by that feeling given that only a few weeks earlier, I wanted to be finished.
Orphaned at birth, seventeen-year-old Korobi Roy is the scion of a distinguished Kolkata family and has enjoyed a privileged, sheltered childhood with her adoring grandparents. But she is troubled by the silence that surrounds her parents’ death and clings fiercely to her only inheritance from them: the love note she found hidden in her mother's book of poetry. Korobi dreams of one day finding a love as powerful as her parents', and it seems her wish has come true when she meets the charming Rajat, the only son of a high-profile business family.
But shortly after their engagement, a heart attack kills Korobi's grandfather, revealing serious financial problems and a devastating secret about Korobi's past. Shattered by this discovery and by her grandparents' betrayal, Korobi undertakes a courageous search across post 9/11 America to find her true identity. Her dramatic, often startling journey will, ultimately, thrust her into the most difficult decision of her life.
Pages: 304 (hardcover)
Publisher: Published March 19th 2013 by Free Press
Rating: 10 out of 10
Source: Checked out from library
Date Completed: April 17, 2013
I first learned of Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni on Twitter. Since I get almost all my books from the library, I am not very up to date on new releases. I was excited to learn that the author is on twitter and I immediately started following her. Since starting the Reading List section of my blog, I have only reviewed one of her books. However, she is one of my favorite writer's. I love who she brings women's voices and experiences to the center of the story. Her descriptions of living with attachments to two cultures is something I relate to strongly and, as strange as it sounds, helps me relate to my own parents better.
From the first sentence, I was swept up in the story. One of my favorite things about Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the she creates worlds in which I get lost in every time I read, even if it is just a few pages. I loved the premise of a young girl seeking to learn more about her mother and struggling to understand and forgive her grand parent's decision. I loved being inside the head of the grandmother as she tries to come to terms with her husband's choices and bridge a connection to her granddaughter. My least favorite character was Rajat, the love interest. The book had surprises without being cliche, but I was still rooting for a fairytale ending.
I am counting this book for the following challenge: 2013 South Asian Reading Challenge: The author is South Asian and most of the book takes place in India.
An enchanting seventeenth-century epic of grand passion and adventure, this debut novel tells the captivating story of one of India's most legendary and controversial empresses -- a woman whose brilliance and determination trumped myriad obstacles, and whose love shaped the course of the Mughal empire. She came into the world in the year 1577, to the howling accompaniment of a ferocious winter storm. As the daughter of starving refugees fleeing violent persecution in Persia, her fateful birth in a roadside tent sparked a miraculous reversal of family fortune, culminating in her father's introduction to the court of Emperor Akbar. She is called Mehrunnisa, the Sun of Women. This is her story.
Pages: 384 (hardcover)
Rating: 9 out of 10
Source: Checked out from library
Date Completed: April 10, 2013
I began reading The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan for the May meeting of the Boston book club. Given my track record of taking a long time to finish books, I decided to start early. I was immediately swept up into the story. My favorite thing about the novel is the blend of history with personal narrative. I learned a lot about the Mughal empire, but also wanted to know more about the love story. I loved Mehrunnisa's spirit: her bold sense of adventure and determination to find a way for herself that allowed her to be independent and use her intelligence.
The story finished with the wedding of Mehrunnisa and the Emperor. I wanted to hear more about her time in the royal palace, after she became an Empress. The author's footnote provided some insight, but I wish that more of the novel had been about that part of history. After I finished reading, I realized that this is the first book in a trilogy. I will have to check out the other two novels to get the scoop!
In addition to book club, I am counting this book for the following challenges:
2013 Global Reading Challenge: Most of the book takes place in India which is in Asia.
2013 South Asian Reading Challenge: The book is written by an Indian author and takes place in India.
"Literary critics make natural detectives," says Maud Bailey, heroine of a mystery where the clues lurk in university libraries, old letters, and dusty journals. Together with Roland Michell, a fellow academic and accidental sleuth, Maud discovers a love affair between the two Victorian writers the pair has dedicated their lives to studying: Randolph Ash, a literary great long assumed to be a devoted and faithful husband, and Christabel La Motte, a lesser-known "fairy poetess" and chaste spinster. At first, Roland and Maud's discovery threatens only to alter the direction of their research, but as they unearth the truth about the long-forgotten romance, their involvement becomes increasingly urgent and personal. Desperately concealing their purpose from competing researchers, they embark on a journey that pulls each of them from solitude and loneliness, challenges the most basic assumptions they hold about themselves, and uncovers their unique entitlement to the secret of Ash and La Motte's passion.
Pages: 555 (hardcover)
Rating: 9 out of 10
Source: Checked out from library
Date Completed: March 31, 2013
I did not know much about Possession by A.S. Byatt, but I heard about a read-a-long from Care on Twitter and was intrigued. I thought it would be a fun way to read and be more active in the book blogging community. The book was divided up into sections that had to be read by certain dates. As predicted, I fell behind. I surprised myself by making the final deadline.
The book started off slowly and I began wondering what I had gotten myself into and then, all of a sudden, I was completely absorbed. I never knew that researching the lives of authors could be so juicy and reading about the politics of academic departments and fields was fascinating. I was also impressed with the different types of writing featured in the book: poems, short stories, correspondence, and narrative.
I am not giving this a 10 because the first 100 pages were tough to get into and I had trouble with the poetry. I felt like my rhythm got interrupted with the poems. I am sure there is significance to them, but my brain was too tired to pick up on it.
My review and summaries pale in comparison to some of the other participants. You can see the Twitter conversation here. Some of the other reviews are below. If you have a review and would like it listed, please let me know!