Thursday, September 21, 2017

Throw-Back Thursday: Great Reading from My Past

There are books I've read that go to a special place in my heart.  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is one of those books, and it is a story in which the heart is fully engaged during and after its reading.  Jamie Ford brilliantly combines history with an intimate story of what love must overcome to survive in a time of war, racism, and a country's betrayal of its citizens.  It is thought provoking and emotionally consuming .  And, as it seems with so many of my selections, completely unintended, this book is bound for the big screen.  Through many years of appeals to the author, there is finally an offer that will honor the integrity of the novel and not mangle or maim its essence.  George Takei has just recently come on board as Executive Producer, and production is to start in 2018.

I had the great privilege and pleasure of meeting Jamie Ford a few years back, after his second book, Songs of Willow Frost, was published.  He is a person of great humor, and I enjoyed talking with him so much.  He saw that my copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet had post-it tabs sticking out, and he had to have a picture of it.  Just a great guy.  Jamie doesn't put out a book every year, not even every two years, but his books are well worth the wait.  His third book, Love and Other Consolation Prizes was just released last week, and I am so excited to read it.  I will be going to see Jamie Ford in Evansville, IN next week at a "One Book, One Community" event featuring Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  It's something I've been looking forward to for some time.

Book Description:
Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history - the internment of American-Japanese families during World War II - Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us about forgiveness and the power of the human heart.

In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, 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. 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: 
Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is historical fiction at its finest. The format of alternating time periods of the 1940's and 1986 serves to bring this story full circle, which is indeed informatively satisfying. Ford takes on a multiplicity of subjects that stem from the setting of Seattle's area of Chinatown and Japantown in the 40's and the characters of Henry, a Chinese boy, and Keiko, a Japanese girl, and he connects them all brilliantly. Racial prejudices, Japanese internment, jazz in Seattle, father/son relationships, friendship, and love--Ford aptly weaves it all into a compelling story that is impossible to put down until you've finished. And, finish it does, in keeping with Ford's attitude towards endings, which is, in his own words, "a real, unambiguous, nonmetaphorical ending." With many books published about Japanese internment during WWII, Jamie Ford's novel stands out as unique. The inclusion of Chinese and Japanese animosity as a major feature assures this novel's innovative place in books examining the Japanese ordeal in our country.


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