Thursday, September 15, 2016


My father used to say, "People are more important than things." Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is about people.

It is about the twelve-year-old Chinese American boy from Seattle who falls in love with a Japanese American girl.

It is about that boy's family and their hatred of the Japanese.

It is about an American president and some American citizens who become convinced that Japanese Americans are a threat to the USA, they are Japanese sympathizers during World War II. In one of the most obscene episodes in American history, the U.S. government imprisoned its own citizens because they were Japanese.

It is about a jazz musician, a seemingly uncaring cafeteria manager, and a sweet Chinese postal service clerk whose love helps see the boy through.

It is about the music people make, the Seattle jazz that surrounded a man named Oscar Holden. And it is about the relationships between fathers, sons, and the other men who serve as fathers or sons in our lives.

Reading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was like watching a movie, scene after scene interspersed, scenes from the 1940s and scenes from the 1980s.

The book centers on Seattle's Panama Hotel at the heart of the 1940s Japanese district. Now, only the hotel and a few other memories remain.

When Henry Lee's wife dies, Henry decides to try to find his first love, a Chinese classmate.

Henry lost out on Keiko Okabe's love because Henry's father betrayed him. Henry's father hated the Japanese. He was happy to see them put in internment camps.

Henry's father manipulated things to cause the separation, but even then, when Henry learned what his father had done, he forgave him. He let the old man apologize on his deathbed and, to an extent, rest in peace.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a strong story. For me, its one weakness was that it was too movie-like.

My father used to have another saying: "Nothing lasts forever." Did Henry's and Keiko's love survive their own happy marriages and the years apart? Can they restore the love they had? Probably not, but Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet leaves us wondering.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was this month's local book club selection. 


Richard Robinson said...

Sounds like a good book with an ending that leaves the reader up in the air. Too bad, I'd want a more concrete finish.

Joe Barone said...

Richard, I suspect you would like the ending. Your comment made me wonder whether I made it sound too up in the air.