Before I really go into, I’d like to make clear my definition of ‘last year’. it means something different to different people. For me, I’m going to go with last school year. Admittedly, I didn’t read that many books last year, but one really did stand out to me.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
This book…is wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. It was slightly adorable at times, gut wrenching, heart warming, angering and just plain painful at times. And it was worth it. Here, have a synopsis:
In 1969, Henry Lee joins a crowd outside the panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It had 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, remember 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. 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.
This book switches between the 40s and 1986 until we’re up to speed on both stories, and they come together in a wonderful final stretch. The thing that really got me about this novel is the perspectives it presents.
I have always been very interested in WWII. I’ve done a lot of independent research about the war away from home and some (but less) about the war at home and I’ve found that something the consistently brushed over in school was the treatment of minorities during the time – especially pertaining to Japanese internment. Most of WWII related books I’ve seen are related to the holocaust (concentration camps, a Jewish family on the run). I’m not negating the devastating significance of the holocaust, but WWII was more than that.
This book goes into perspectives which are often missed. I had never even thought about how the war might have effected the Americans of Chinese (or otherwise Asian) descent. The main character wears a button for a big chunk of the book reading ‘I am Chinese’ for fear of being mistaken for being Japanese, since no one could tell the difference (not that they tried). The book also goes into the jazz scene of the era. It’s definitely worth noting that Henry’s best friend is a (black) sax-man named Sheldon. Then of course there’s Keiko, Japanese ancestry but American nationality. Through these perspectives, we get a lot of cultural and racial identity and the treatment of such identities within several cultures.
But, like all my favorite books, it’s about much more.
It’s about hope and loss, friendship and family. I could say it’s about jazz music saving a nation, but that might come off as a bit biased (and maybe a bit of a stretch).
It really is a lovely read. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in compelling characters, a good story, any of the themes listed above, WWII, and especially someone who likes to consider the troubles of racial and culture identity (we’ve all been there, am I right?).
Just a side note, I love the title so much. It’s a title with a meaning that is probably slightly apparent in the synopsis alone. I love it.
Anyway, yeah. Great book for a book list. Give it a look!