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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: A Novel [Audiobook, Unabridged] [Audio CD]

Jamie Ford , Feodor Chin
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 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.


From the Hardcover edition.

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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


From the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Jamie Ford is the great-grandson of Nevada mining pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated in 1865 from Kaiping, China, to San Francisco, where he adopted the Western name “Ford,” thus confusing countless generations. Ford is an award-winning short-story writer.

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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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8 of 8 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Love Story! Jan. 17 2009
By Nicola Mansfield HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Henry Lee's wife has been dead for six months when he comes upon a crowd outside an old hotel that has been boarded up since the war years. The belongings of about 40 families that were sent to Japanese internment camps have been found in the basement. Henry remembers his past.

The book switches narrative from the present (well, 1985) to Henry's past when he was a boy of twelve. He met a Japanese girl the same age and they became friends but Henry's father was a staunch Chinese Nationalist and considered all Japanese the enemy since Japan had been attacking China for the last ten years.

This is a beautiful book. Beautifully written with a beautiful story to tell. It is a tale of friendship and enemies, love and hate, two very different families and the children who fall in love. Almost like World War II version of Romeo and Juliet. The story is bittersweet, hence the title, and the characters of Henry, his father, and Keiko, the American-born Japanese girl are fully realized.

I found the historical aspect fascinating. I often read World War II stories from a Chinese point of view and this was quite unique. The story was riveting and a page-turner that I couldn't put down. I don't usually read love stories, especially unrequited love, but the tale told here is simply beautiful and much more than just a love story.

The only quibble I have is that the author tried to present an unbiased point of view in regards to the Japanese internment camps and while he succeeded I would have liked a little more background on the "why?" of the situation for readers who know nothing of the Japanese atrocities of WWII. It was very briefly referred to but a little more information would have presented a truly balanced point of view.

In all, this is a wonderful tale and will be truly enjoyed by anyone who enjoys a good WWII story or Asian fiction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this, you won't regret it Aug. 16 2010
By suki55
Format:Paperback
Found this book in the library and took it home because it looked interesting. I had no idea!!

I learned so much about the american attitudes during WWII and about the civil war between the Chinese and Japanese.

This is not only a book about war, the wars are a backdrop to let us know about the characters and the characters are interesting and well developed and we get to follow them until the end.

If you liked Empire of the Sun you will like this book even more. I hope you will read it, and, if you listen to it the narrator is wonderful.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting era but weak characters and slow pace.
My Review: After reading, reviewing and really enjoying Garden of Stones by Sophie Littlefield a year and a half ago I was eager to read more about the experiences of Japanese... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it!
It was a "book club" choice...not a difficult read...but filled with good character studies....culturally interesting as well.
I would...and have...recommended it!
Published 4 months ago by Linda Tom
4.0 out of 5 stars Canadian Japanese camps story
Really enjoyed the read with historical implications. Very interesting through to the end. I would highly recommend. Different twist of a read.
Published 7 months ago by Brenda A. Barr
5.0 out of 5 stars Quick, lovely read
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: A Novel: The book was very enjoyable and well written. I will read this author again.
Published 9 months ago by SMH
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the best
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.
Published 10 months ago by quinnbabe
3.0 out of 5 stars loved the title
I read the jacket notes with anticipation, as my husband & I had recently been in both China and Japan. I thought - great! Read more
Published 11 months ago by Deborah Benoit Aspler
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 11 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 11 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 15 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 16 months ago by Sarah Wilson
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