Tomorrow night we’ll be having our special chat about a book many of us have been reading this past month: Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. This debut novel by Jamie Ford is a look at a set of circumstances many of us are ignorant about – the evacuation of Japanese Americans in 1942 from their homes and then their internment in what amounts to concentration camps.
The author very deftly tells the story through the eyes of a twelve-year-old Chinese American boy, Henry. Henry’s parents were from China and, his father especially, was still caught up in the fighting in China between the Japanese and the Chinese. To Henry’s father, the Japanese are his enemy.
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in late 1941, most people in the United States feared they would attack the mainland, especially the West Coast. The setting for this novel is Seattle, which was the home for many Japanese Americans. Many Americans saw the Japanese Americans as their enemy or as spies for Japan. They extended their hatred to anyone who looked Asian.
Young Henry was the only Asian child at an all-white school until Keiko, a Japanese girl enrolled. The two became fast friends. Henry keeps his friendship a secret from his father for as long as he possibly can. Eventually his father finds out and Henry is as good as dead to his father.
For Keiko and her family, they are ordered, along with anyone of Japanese descent, to board a train to go live in the Washington State fairgrounds and then for the rest of the war in a camp of ten-thousand people in Idaho.
Henry manages to visit Keiko at both camps and manages to bring hope to the family. However he still wears a button on his shirt that says, “I Am Chinese” so he will not be mistaken for this “enemy.”
This is a story with many themes (father-son relationships, racism, government policy on immigration) as well as a love story between these two young adults. There is so much to this story I haven’t covered in this summary. I could talk about Henry’s friendship with a jazz musician and his love of jazz or the accumulated possessions in a Seattle hotel basement for forty years. This is a rich story that made me angry, sad and frustrated, and also smile and say, “How sweet.”
Join the Book Chat
I hope you’ll join our on-line chat. The time is 8:30 PM EST on Friday. It will be at Molly’s chat room at The Bumbles Blog. It’s a matter of two clicks: click to go to The Bumbles Blog and then click on the book cover in the right sidebar. Then just sign in as a guest or with your Facebook ID. Even if you haven’t read the book this month. Just come and chat.
One more thing — If this is a new book to you and if I’ve peaked you interest, you can find this book at most local libraries and independent booksellers. It’s also available at Amazon. (I’m an Amazon Associate.)