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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: A Novel [Hardcover]

Jamie Ford
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 27 2009
"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.

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Review

"Mesmerizing and evocative, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a tale of conflicted loyalties, devotion, as well as a vibrant portrait of Seattle's Nihonmachi district in its heyday."

-- Sara Gruen,
New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants

“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

"Sentimental, heartfelt novel portrays two children separated during the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. In 1940s Seattle, ethnicities do not mix. Whites, blacks, Chinese and Japanese live in separate neighborhoods, and their children attend different schools. When Henry Lee’s staunchly nationalistic father pins an “I am Chinese” button to his 12-year-old son’s shirt and enrolls him in an all-white prep school, Henry finds himself friendless and at the mercy of schoolyard bullies. His salvation arrives in the form of Keiko, a Japanese girl with whom Henry forms an instant—and forbidden—bond. The occasionally sappy prose tends to overtly express subtleties that readers would be happier to glean for themselves, but the tender relationship between the two young people is moving. The older Henry, a recent widower living in 1980s Seattle, reflects in a series of flashbacks on his burgeoning romance with Keiko and its abrupt ending when her family was evacuated. A chance discovery of items left behind by Japanese-Americans during the evacuation inspires Henry to share his and Keiko’s story with his own son, in hopes of preventing the dysfunctional parent-child relationship he experienced with his own father. The major problem here is that Henry’s voice always sounds like that of a grown man, never quite like that of a child; the boy of the flashbacks is jarringly precocious and not entirely credible. Still, the exploration of Henry’s changing relationship with his family and with Keiko will keep most readers turning pages while waiting for the story arc to come full circle, despite the overly flowery portrait of young love, cruel fate and unbreakable bonds. 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

"Fifth-grade scholarship students and best friends Henry and Keiko are the only Asians in their Seattle elementary school in 1942. Henry is Chinese, Keiko is Japanese, and Pearl Harbor has made all Asians-even those who are American born-targets for abuse. Because Henry's nationalistic father has a deep-seated hatred for Japan, Henry keeps his friendship with and eventual love for Keiko a secret. When Keiko's family is sent to an internment camp in Idaho, Henry vows to wait for her. Forty years later, Henry comes upon an old hotel where the belongings of dozens of displaced Japanese families have turned up in the basement, and his love for Keiko is reborn. In his first novel, award-winning short-story writer Ford expertly nails the sweet innocence of first love, the cruelty of racism, the blindness of patriotism, the astonishing unknowns between parents and their children, and the sadness and satisfaction at the end of a life well lived. The result is a vivid picture of a confusing and critical time in American history. Recommended for all fiction collections." - Library Journal


Advance praise for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

“Jamie Ford’s novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is deeply informed by an intimate knowledge of Seattle during World War II, of the tribulations of Asian peoples during the time of Japanese internment, and even of the Seattle jazz scene of that time. His story of an innocent passion that crosses racial barriers–and then, of the whole life of a man who forsook the girl he loved–is told with an artistic technique that makes emotion inevitable.”
–Louis B. Jones, author of Particles and Luck

“I loved it! Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a beautiful and tender masterpiece. A book everyone will be talking about, and the best book you’ll read this year.”
–Anne Frasier, USA Today bestselling author of Garden of Darkness

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet tells a heartwarming story of fathers and sons, first loves, fate, and the resilient human heart. Set in the ethnic neighborhoods of Seattle during World War II and Japanese American internment camps of the era, the times and places are brought to life by the marvelous, evocative details.”
–Jim Tomlinson, winner of the 2006 Iowa Short Fiction Award and author of Things Kept, Things Left Behind

About the Author

JAMIE FORD is the great grandson of Nevada mining pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated from China, to San Francisco in 1865, where he adopted the western name 'Ford', thus confusing countless generations. Ford's debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a New York Times bestseller, and has been awarded the 2010 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. It has been translated into twenty-six languages. Having grown up near Seattle's Chinatown, Ford now lives in Montana with his wife and children. www.jamieford.com --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My best read in 2009 Sept. 22 2009
Format:Audio CD
I stumbled upon the audio version of this book in my local library and am so glad I did. I was completely absorbed in this novel and the characters from start to finish. It is a book about belonging and the fear and ignorance that led to such prejudice in the 1940s.

This book also a book about relationships, between parents and their children, children and their peers, and between friends and lovers. Another reviewer Kate Messner said it so eloquently when she said that this book "looks at the best and worst of human relationships, the way we regard others, the way we find ourselves reenacting our relationships with our parents with our own children, the choices we make along the way. Mostly, though, this book reminds us that there is always room -- and time -- for forgiveness and redemption."

I must note that this book was as beautifully read as it was written. The reader, Feodor Chin was exceptional!

I hope Jamie Ford continues writing as he is an exceptionally talented author.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartwarming & Well-written March 15 2009
Format:Hardcover
The book begins in 1986 and follows Henry Lee, a Chinese-American whose wife has recently passed away. He is dealing with his heartache and a strained relationship with his grown-up son Marty. The Panama Hotel, a renovated hotel in what was once Seattle's Japantown, recently discovered belongings that were once hidden there by Japanese immigrants in WWII. This news sparks Henry's memories of his youth and flashbacks to the 1940s when Henry had developed a close relationship with a Japanese girl named Keiko. Henry's father however, was a strict advocate for his Chinese heritage, forcing Henry to wear a pin stating "I am Chinese" and showed a stubborn dislike of all things Japanese. Henry's relationship with Keiko, set to the backdrop of WWII, forces him to grow up quickly and make difficult and sometimes dangerous decisions in order to fight for what he believes in.

I enjoyed this story from start to finish. It is surprising that this is Jamie Ford's first novel because his writing is so professional and polished while retaining its passionate flair. Henry and Keiko are two of the most endearing characters I have ever encountered and it is hard not to feel connected to them and become deeply invested in their outcomes.

"Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" also explores important issues of culture and the ramifications of prejudice, proving that there is more depth to this sweet story than meets the eye. Though it's often hard for an author to separate his or her own personal judgments and opinions, Jamie has done his best as he so eloquently states in his author's note:
"My intent was not to create a morality play, with my voice being the loudest on stage, but rather to defer to the reader's sense of justice, of right and wrong, and let the facts speak plainly.
Read more ›
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Near the intersection of Disappointing & Vapid June 15 2010
By NyiNya TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I am fascinated and horrified at the period in American History covered by this book. The shamefull internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps, while their possessions were taken over (stolen) by their neighbors was covered up for decades. I certainly never learned about it in school. I jumped at the opportunity to add to my knowledge of the era, but this is not the book to do it.

The novel is full of misinformation and anachronisms, so I don't trust it to provide any real information. At heart, this is the story of a pre-teen named Henry, the son of Chinese immigrants. Henry's relatives in China suffered terribly under the Japanese occupying forces, and Henry's father despises all Japanese. This is bad news when Henry falls in love with Keiko. If parental opposition isn't enough, Keiko and her family are soon sent to a concentration camp in Idaho. But Henry never forgets Keiko and Keiko never forgets Henry.

This is a great love story for the very young or ,perhaps, the very old. Anyone between 13 and 70 is going to find it a little lame, a little skewed in terms of facts, and slow going in general. There are anachronisms galore, a story line that jumps back and forth in time, but without indicating any growth or maturity on the part of the characters, and really, in the end, it's just not worth the effort to read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Canadian Japanese camps story Feb. 28 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Really enjoyed the read with historical implications. Very interesting through to the end. I would highly recommend. Different twist of a read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Quick, lovely read Jan. 20 2014
By SMH
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: A Novel: The book was very enjoyable and well written. I will read this author again.
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5.0 out of 5 stars one of the best Dec 8 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I think everyone who can read so read this book - could have gone on for many more chaptersl Loved it and so did friends.
Hope this writer carries on with more of the same.
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3.0 out of 5 stars loved the title Nov. 16 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I read the jacket notes with anticipation, as my husband & I had recently been in both China and Japan. I thought - great! - here's a book that will tell a story of the two cultures living and struggling together here in America.

I was more than a little disappointed. I felt there was so much more under the surface that wasn't written - but maybe that is truly how the two cultures actually subsist in today's world?

It was interesting in the story of the internment of the Japanese in Seattle. Probably a lot like what we had here in Canada. There was a special friendship, bound by a common interest in jazz - that was deeply touching, but this could have been so much more.
Not a bad read and, at times, very good - but could have been so much more.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A GREAT BOOK FOR YOUR READING GROUP
A tender story and a compelling book to read; excellent character development and insight into the nature of the diverse cast - lots of fodder for thought.
Published 5 months ago by Mary Lou Anderson
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful story of a very sad part of our history
This book was recommended to me by a friend who's father was Japanese and who lived through this era. I read it just after my return from a trip to China. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Karen L. Nelson
5.0 out of 5 stars A different time.
The book kept me reading to find out what would happen next. I felt very sorry for the young boy and was glad it had a good ending.
Published 8 months ago by Marg Jacques
5.0 out of 5 stars A touching story
Easy to read, well written and a touching story. I would recommend this to anyone, as it touches both this generation and generations past.
Published 10 months ago by Sarah Wilson
5.0 out of 5 stars It was a wonderful, sad story- lolved the ending
It is a great book
Liked the history of the 2nd World War.
The characters were well rounded. Loved the ending
Published 11 months ago by S.D.Rossington
5.0 out of 5 stars Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
I chose this rating because I felt the characters were well protrayed. I felt empathy for the Japanese people and the main characters of this book and I got a better view of how... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Kathy Pratt
5.0 out of 5 stars loved this book
This book was recommended by a friend after I commented that I was disappointed by the Marigold Hotel book. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Gail Timmer
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice Coming of Age novel
I recently joined a book club and was excited to read this one! I found the history about the Japanese internment camps fascinating. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Tara Benwell
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but long winded
I first heard about this book while taking a food tour of Seattle.
The book depicts the story of Japanese internment during World War Two and the relationship between a young... Read more
Published on Dec 31 2010 by Erin L
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