Thursday, 24 May 2012
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Hotel On The Corner of Bitter and Sweet starts with the discovery of property belonging to Japanese American citizens in the basement of a Seattle hotel. Watching this discovery is Henry Lee, a Chinese American who was only a child when World War Two began. The items take him back to his school days, in which he struck up an unlikely friendship with Japanese Keiko Okabe, the only other Asian student at his expensive school. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet traces their friendship through family disapproval, internment camps for the Japanese and the end of the war. Does Henry have to live with only regret?
I had such a mixed reaction to this book. To start with the positives, it was definitely an engrossing reading experience. Whilst the initial section was perhaps a bit slow, things soon picked up and I found myself reluctant to put the book down and go to sleep each night. I knew very little about the treatment of Japanese citizens during World War Two in America, so I found these parts fascinating to read. There are parallels with other kinds of camps, but Ford does it all with a light touch. The two main characters of Henry and Keiko are easy to relate to and their relationship is written just right for their age and situation. I was hoping for a happy ending.
But I did have one big issue with the book and that was it's lack of depth. Yes Ford is writing about something that not too many people know about, but he does so only shallowly. At times Hotel on the Corner of Bitter Sweet was more about the tragic romance of the two characters than anything else. Now, I don't mind that if it's done well, but I wanted to know more about the camps and about Keiko's family. How did her father really feel? I don't mean this as harshly as it sounds, but it was a bit like a Nicholas Sparks novel with an unusual backdrop.
And whilst Henry and Keiko were well drawn, substantial characters, the same couldn't be said for the rest of the cast. Henry's future daughter in law Samantha was just too perfect to be believable, as was the whole Okabe family. They really had no opinion on their daughter being so close to a Chinese boy, accepting him almost as a member of the family from the moment they met him?
I don't want to be too negative about the book as I did have a positive experience reading it. It's just that the experience was sort of shallow, it won't stay with me for long.
First Published: 2009
Score: 3 out of 5