Thursday, June 3, 2010

Book Review: Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

"He'd done all he could. But choosing to lovingly care for her was like steering a plane into a mountain as gently as possible. The crash is imminent; it's how you spend your time on the way down that counts."

Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and sweet was one of those gems suggested to me by the omnipotent Amazon who looked over my purchases and decided I would like that book. I did. It is a tender love story between a Chinese boy and his Japanese friend at the beginning of WWII. It is told in both past and present (1986 present to be exact).

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.

I copy/pasted the summary from goodreads. It truly was a great book and I would suggest it to anyone who loves historical fiction, such as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and These is My Words (That means you Granma).

I admit I got a little choked up in the end when everything is unfolded.

1 comment:

Georgia said...

It is so interesting that you just read this book and wrote about it on your blog. We must have been reading this book at nearly the same time. I finished it just before I read The Help.

I liked Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet too. It was gentle and easy to move through. I bought it when we were in Baltimore and started it on the flight home, but put it on the back burner while I read couple of Book Club books. The main reason I purchased Hotel... was because I'm so interested in the Japanese Internment Camps. There was one just a few miles west of Hinckley where I grew up. In fact, our lunch room at my elementary school was one of the barrack buildings from Topaz. I've visited that area a couple of times and felt so overwhelmed about what occured there and across our country. I felt even more mortified about the interment camps after my little brother married the most beautiful and amazing Japanese girl and I've now visited that amazing country.

Thanks for your book reviews. I always enjoy them!