"A tender and satisfying novel set in a time and a place lost forever, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet gives us a glimpse of the damage that is caused by war--not the sweeping damage of the battlefield, but the cold, cruel damage to the hearts and humanity of individual people.Read more...
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"A tender and satisfying novel set in a time and a place lost forever, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet gives us a glimpse of the damage that is caused by war--not the sweeping damage of the battlefield, but the cold, cruel damage to the hearts and humanity of individual people. Especially relevant in today's world, this is a beautifully written book that will make you think. And, more importantly, it will make you 'feel.'" -- Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of "The Art of Racing in the Rain"
"Jamie Ford's first novel explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans in the Seattle area during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love. An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut." -- Lisa See, bestselling author of "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan"
In the opening pages of Jamie Ford's stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.
This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry's world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While "scholarshipping" at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship-and innocent love-that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.
Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel's dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family's belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice-words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.
Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.
From the Hardcover edition.
Best paperbacks for reading groups
This month's selection of best reading group picks includes historical fiction from Kim Barnes, Louis de Bernières, and Jamie Ford—three novels that are sure to spark discussion!
A Country Called Home
Set during the 1960s, Kim Barnes’ beautifully written novel tells the story of Thomas and Helen Deracotte, newlyweds who leave civilized, cultured Connecticut behind to start a fresh life in Idaho. Thomas, a doctor, sets his sights on opening a country practice and running a farm in the small town of Fife. Neither Thomas nor well-to-do Helen knows anything about farming, and so they hire Manny, an independent and capable hand, to take over operations on their homestead. Charmed by the idea of living off his own land, Thomas soon decides not to open a medical practice and turns his energies to the farm. But he relies heavily on handsome Manny, who quickly insinuates himself into the Deracottes’ good graces. After Helen gives birth to a daughter, the Deracottes’ dependence on Manny increases, and Helen—disenchanted by the responsibilities of new motherhood—finds herself increasingly drawn to him. Barnes, a Pulitzer Prize nominee for her memoir In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in an Unknown Country (1997), writes poetically about the rough Idaho landscape, instilling the narrative with rich detail and vivid imagery. Her poignant portrait of an unraveling marriage brims with tension and suspense. This is a fierce novel that bravely explores the challenges of love and family life. A reading group guide is available online.
A Partisan’s Daughter
Taking 1970s London as its backdrop, Louis de Bernières’ captivating novel is a testament to the power of storytelling. Lonely and restless, Chris is stuck in a dead-end marriage and desperate for change, which arrives one night in an unexpected form—that of a mysterious Yugoslavian woman named Roza. Chris wrongly believes that Roza is a prostitute and tries to engage her services. Amused by the situation, Roza plays along and accompanies him. So begins a strange relationship that—instead of being based on sex—is founded on the power of Roza’s tales about her old life. In truth, she is far from a call girl. The daughter of one of Tito’s supporters, she is new to London and struggling to make a life for herself. Mixing fact and fiction, she spins incredible accounts about her existence in Eastern Europe, seducing the naïve Chris, who falls hopelessly in love with her. Roza’s stories transport him to a reality far more interesting than his own, and the consequences—heartbreaking and unforgettable—change Chris’ life forever. With his latest novel, de Bernières, author of Corelli’s Mandolin, offers a profound look at the ways in which a seemingly simple choice can irrevocably alter a life. A master novelist, he has written a fascinating and insightful book that’s part love story, part political history and part mystery. A reading group guide is available online.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Jamie Ford’s accomplished first novel focuses on Asian Americans in Seattle. Struggling to regain his equilibrium after the death of his wife from cancer, Henry Lee finds a welcome distraction in his own personal history. When he learns that the possessions of some Japanese immigrants who were imprisoned during World War II have been discovered in the cellar of a Seattle hotel, he is prompted to re-evaluate his life. Reflecting upon his childhood, Henry recalls the challenges of his upbringing in Seattle during the war. As a student at a reputable, predominantly white private school, he is teased mercilessly. While there, Henry falls in love with Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese-American girl who is also a student. After Keiko and her family are interned in a camp, he is forced to acknowledge the reality of anti-Japanese feeling, a sentiment his own Chinese father displays, much to Henry’s horror. Shifting back and forth between past and present, the novel highlights Henry’s strained relationship with his own son, Marty, a college student. The narrative presents his memories and musings in chapters rich with drama and finely choreographed scenes. Ford writes with assurance about the legacies of history and the difficulties of cultural assimilation. His poignant examination of the father-son relationship adds an extra layer of complexity to this mature debut. A reading group guide is included in the book.