Monday, January 2, 2012

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

January's Book Club Choice

About the book: Young Chinese American Henry Lee meets Keiko Okabe, a Japanese American girl, in the early 1940s. They both attend an (otherwise) white prep school as "scholarship students" in Seattle. Henry's father is adamantly anti-Japanese, as is the increasingly hostile general population of Seattle following the Attack on Pearl Harbor. In spite of this, Henry and Keiko begin an intense friendship until Keiko is taken to an internment camp with her family.

Henry finds her, first at local Camp Harmony. After failing to make his feelings known at Camp Harmony, he follows her with his friend, a local Jazz musician named Sheldon, to Minidoka, Idaho. Upon finding her there, he promises to wait for her. They decide to write each other letters until the war is over, and Henry returns to Seattle.

He religiously mails Keiko letters, but receives very few in return. His father is intent on sending him to China, now that the Japanese are being pushed back, to finish his education traditionally. Henry arrives home one day to find a ticket to China in his name. He agrees to go on the condition that his father (as part of an association of elders) saves the Panama Hotel from being sold. The Panama Hotel is where Keiko's family stored the larger part of their belongings when they were shipped to the concentration camps. Many families stored their possessions in the basement of the Hotel.

He then meets the woman he ended up marrying, Ethel, who worked at the post office and became casual friends with him. He did end up meeting Keiko again, though their postal contact was severed by Henry's father, who was stopping the letters in transit. With the help of Henry's son he finds Keiko in New York after she sent a package to Sheldon's funeral. He goes to see her and they have casual conversation, until Keiko begins a Japanese compliment that Henry had spoken to her in during their childhood, which Henry finishes.

 The Author Jamie Ford shows the places in the book.

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