Thursday, May 20, 2010

Literary Bite: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Despite its excessively cheesy title, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a very good book. In Jamie Ford’s first novel, he tells a sweet (but not cloying) young love story, set on the backdrop of Japanese interment in WWII.

I’ve read a lot of Asia-based books this year (Lost on Planet China, Saving Fish from Drowning, River Town, The Siege of Krishnapur, Finding George Orwell in Burma, Burmese Days, The Ginger Tree), and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet kind of continues with that theme, picking up almost exactly where The Ginger Tree left off, but on a different continent.

I hate to use this cliché, but it’s a “coming of age” story of a Chinese-American boy (Henry), who befriends a Japanese-American girl (Keiko) in Seattle right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They bond as outcasts at an all-white school where they work in the kitchen in exchange for “scholarshipping.” But it’s much more than just a love story. The immigrant parent/American child relationship is very well-done, and a huge part of the story is Seattle’s jazz scene.

Read a really thorough summary here.

Ford did a great job switching between time periods. Each chapter is titled with the year, either 1986 or the 1940s. It’s a tricky balance to write in this style. Almost inevitably, the reader likes one story better…But I liked them both, so that worked out really well! The style allowed Ford to contrast the extreme racisim/patriotism of the '40s to just 40 years later when it’s almost completely forgotten by everyone except those it affected. Interesting and thought-provoking.

The book is well written and engaging (I read for 3 hours straight at the drum circle on Sunday afternoon). So read it! You’ll like it!

Along the Japanese internment theme, during the Cherry Blossom Festival my mama and I saw an interesting exhibit at the Renwick Gallery of art made in the internment camps. And have you read Snow Falling on Cedars? So GOOD. It's been 8 years...I should re-read that...

Check out Jamie Ford's website and blog.