Book Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: A Novel

I had seen a lot of references to this book by Jamie Ford  in the literary blogosphere but really didn’t have any idea what it was about. It tells the story of Henry, a first generation Chinese-American in Seattle who is adjusting to his life as a new widow after years of caring for a sick wife. The discovery of a treasure-trove of WWII era Japanese-American belongings abandoned in a local hotel basement prompts him to remember events from his childhood in Seattle during the war. His childhood sweetheart was a Japanese American girl who disappeared during the interment. The book goes back and forth between flashbacks to the 1940’s and “present-day” ( actually 1980’s) Seattle.

I enjoyed this book but didn’t love it. It’s well written and the story is compelling. I find that time in history fascinating. I also liked the themes of family and the struggle between new immigrants and their American born children. Somehow though, the book lacks emotion. The characters are all appealing but I never really felt invested in them. Part of it may have been that in the flashbacks Henry and his childhood sweetheart Keiko are twelve. Their voices and the level of emotion seemed much older to me and so I found the main storyline somewhat unbelievable. I can understand that emotions intensify in a time of stress and war, but it still seemed to me that it would have been a better book with a slightly older (14 or 15) Henry and Keiko.

But I’m in the minority. The book has won numerous awards. To read a review by someone who loved it, check out Carrie at Reading to Know. I see on Jamie Ford’s website that it has been optioned to be made into a movie. I can see that working very well. I’d definitely go see that. And if you’re looking for a good summer read this is a good choice.

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