Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday 3 November 2011

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - Jamie Ford

This novel has a dual timeframe narrative set in Seattle, telling the story of twelve year old Chinese American boy Henry Lee in 1942-5, and much later in his life, in 1986. In the more recent story, Henry happens upon the local landmark, the Panama Hotel, under new ownership, where there has been the discovery of many personal belongings in the basement. These were Japanese people’s possessions, left there in desperation when the Japanese Americans living in the area were taken to internment camps during World War II. The belongings cause Henry to stop and wonder and reflect on an unfinished chapter in his past.

In the earlier part of the story, Henry is growing up in the Chinatown area of Seattle, and his parents have made the decision to send him to the American school, and that he must speak English. As the only nonwhite pupil, he is an outsider there, ostracized and bullied, until Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American girl, arrives, and the two become firm friends, united in their isolation from the others, and by the conflict in their identities and a sense of not belonging to any community wholly. The two of them spend many happy hours together, and their friendship grows, with each feeling stronger emotions but being only young teenagers they struggle to express themselves. Henry has another good friend nearby, Sheldon, who is to be found playing his saxophone in town, where many Jazz clubs are based. Things have already been difficult for Henry, his parents disapprove of his friendship with Keiko because of the Japanese invasion of China, and when the attack on Pearl Harbour occurs, and the USA enters the war, everything changes forever.

This is a moving, heart-rending story - to steal from the book’s title, bittersweet really does describe this tale. I loved Henry and Keiko, and also Sheldon, great characters who I really grew to care about as I read on. Their friendships are strong and true. Henry has a difficult relationship with his parents, trying to meet their expectations but also start to lead his own life, and make his own decisions. I was surprised that when the war ends there was no mention of what had happened in Japan. It’s a special book, filled with struggles, separation and sadness, but equally with friendship, love and hope. I knew nothing about the events in these communities; I found it fascinating and feel this novel really highlights this through its story.


  1. this looks very good..thanks for sharing it with us!

  2. I've had this on my wishlist for a long time - glad you enjoyed it :)

  3. I love the title - thanks for reviewing it!

  4. This is a great review, and I'm putting this on my TBR list. Have you read Snow Falling on Cedars? If so, does this book remind you somewhat of that one?
    Thanks for following my blog, and I'm following you back!

  5. Hi Lindsay, back from my travels and trying to catch up with all my favourite bloggers. I see you have had a break yourself and are now back with some great reviews including this one which is going straight on my wishlist, thanks.

  6. Thanks kimba.
    Thanks Sam hope you'll like it too.
    Amy it's a lovely title isn't it, I really like it, it's poetic.
    Bean thank you for following back, I haven't read that one yet.
    Hi LindyLouMac, nice to have you back, thanks for your kind comments.

  7. Wow, I would love to read this book. Being an immigrant as well, books like this tend to resonate a lot with me. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. Will be adding it to my to-read pile now. :)

  8. I keep passing over this book in my local book store, but your review has inspired me to pick it up next time! I love historical fiction, so this sounds like its right up my alley. Thanks for sharing!

    - HeroineAddict

  9. Thanks for your kind comments. :)


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