Fall '09/Winter '10 Reading Group List
“In 1986, Henry Lee happens upon the Panama Hotel in Seattle, where discoveries in the basement bring back haunting memories of the 1940s. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet tells of family pride, innocence, young love, jazz clubs, and internment. This novel will delight all ages -- it's good for reading aloud and great for discussions.”
— Barbara Theroux, Fact & Fiction, Missoula, MT
February 2009 Indie Next List
“The Japanese internment of WWII comes alive in this timeless story, set in 1940s Seattle, of the power of the human heart to rise above hatred and bigotry. This is a book to share with others.”
— Marilyn Scheer, East West Bookshop, Seattle, WA
"Sentimental, heartfelt….the exploration of Henry’s changing relationship with his family and with Keiko will keep most readers turning pages...A timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don’t repeat those injustices."-- Kirkus Reviews
“A tender and satisfying novel set in a time and a place lost forever, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet gives us a glimpse of the damage that is caused by war--not the sweeping damage of the battlefield, but the cold, cruel damage to the hearts and humanity of individual people. Especially relevant in today's world, this is a beautifully written book that will make you think. And, more importantly, it will make you feel."
-- Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain
“Jamie Ford's first novel explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans in the Seattle area during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love. An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut.”
-- Lisa See, bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
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.
BONUS: This edition contains a Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet discussion guide and an excerpt from Jamie Ford's Songs of Willow Frost.
About the Author
Jamie Ford is the great-grandson of Nevada mining pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated from Kaiping, China, to San Francisco in 1865, where he adopted the Western name “Ford,” thus confusing countless generations. Ford is an award-winning short-story writer, an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and a survivor of Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. Having grown up near Seattle’s Chinatown, he now lives in Montana with his wife and children.
“An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut that explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans in the Seattle era during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love.”—Lisa See
“A tender and satisfying novel set in a time and a place lost forever, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet gives us a glimpse of the damage that is caused by war—not the sweeping damage of the battlefield but the cold, cruel damage to the hearts and humanity of individual people. This is a beautifully written book that will make you think. And, more important, it will make you feel.”—Garth Stein, bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain
“Mesmerizing and evocative, a tale of conflicted loyalties and timeless devotion.”—Sara Gruen, bestselling author of Water for Elephants
“A wartime-era Chinese-Japanese variation on Romeo and Juliet . . . The period detail [is] so revealing and so well rendered.”—The Seattle Times
“A poignant story that transports the reader back in time . . . a satisfying and heart-wrenching tale.”—Deseret Morning News
“A lovely combination of romantic coincidence, historic detail and realism that is smooth and highly readable . . . Ford does wonderful work in re-creating prewar Seattle.”—The Oregonian
“Heartfelt . . . a timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don’t repeat those injustices.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Ford’s story of an innocent passion across racial barriers—and of the life of a man who forsook the girl he loved—is told with an artistic technique that makes emotion inevitable.”—Louis B. Jones
“A beautiful and tender masterpiece . . . a book everyone will be talking about, and the best book you’ll read this year.”—Anne Frasier
“A heartwarming story of fathers and sons, first loves, fate, and the resilient human heart . . . marvelously evocative.”—Jim Tomlinson