Saturday, September 1, 2012

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Via Goodreads -
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. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

My Review: 3 Stars
This is the first book chosen for our book club to read.  I didn't really want to read it at first - although given weeks to read it, I finished it 5 hours before book club - I'm glad I did.  I knew it was set in a time of great prejudice and war and I wasn't looking forward to crying - I'm a huge crybaby when it comes to books.  It's about a 12 year old Chinese boy named Henry and his friendship with 12 year old Japanese girl named Keiko.  The story takes place after Japan has bombed Pearl Harbor and Japanese-Americans are beginning to be herded into concentration camps in the United States.  Henry and Keiko's friendship is strictly prohibited by his family, who are understandably anti-Japanese.  Henry and Keiko meet while attending an all-white school and endure a lot of bullying together.  Even after Keiko is sent off to a camp with her family, Henry cannot let go of his deep connection with her.   

I think this book does a wonderful job of painting a vivid picture of what life was like for Chinese, Japanese and African American people in that era.  The details are precise and you can practically smell the food mixed with the Pacific air of Seattle.  You feel completely immersed in the culture and you learn so much more than the history books tell you.

This book also makes you think and ask yourself a lot of "what if" questions.  It made me consider/reflect on my ethnicity quite a bit and what it's like to be an American of Mexican descent.  In book club we talked a lot about what we would do differently than the characters, how we would feel standing by watching innocent families hauled away to who knows where, how we would feel if our own families were the ones being hauled off with only the belongings we could carry.  I don't think that we had to use our imaginations too much to picture living in a time of war after a devastating attack on American soil.  We lived through 9/11 after all.  That's still pretty fresh and still deeply heartbreaking.  Have Muslim people not been persecuted by fellow Americans here on American soil since the towers came down?  Muslim people who were born here on American soil and only speak English.  I bring this up because Keiko states on numerous occasions that she doesn't even speak Japanese, she was born in the United States and strictly identifies herself as an American - treated as a enemy.

I recommend that anyone with the slightest interest in history read this book.  It is a beautiful and heart-wrenching story of love, sacrifice and humanity with a lot of historical fact.  The only reason I didn't give this book more stars is because I spent the better part of it not completely invested in the story.  I only felt mildly interested in the love story, though I can count 2 times (toward the end) that my heart dropped down to my stomach by a turn of events.  Very good book that I'm sure many people fell in love with, I just wasn't one of them.  I only fell into like, but with no regrets.