Monday, January 24, 2011

2 halves of an old jazz record (Valentine's Day #2)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford is the second of my suggested books for Valentine's Day reading. When Henry Lee, an older man of Chinese descent, sees a group of people gathering at the old closed-up Panama Hotel, he is flooded with memories of his childhood. During restoration, the new owner found a room in the basement full of the belongings of Seattle's Japanese families who were sent to internment camps in 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Alternating between 1942 and 1986, the book tells the story of Henry's life as a 12 year old boy when he fell in love with a Japanese girl, and his present life after the death of his wife, Ethel.

This book is more like the kind of fiction I usually enjoy reading, and I appreciated the historical aspects of a powerful story full of sympathetic characters. The conflicts are shown with emotional detail: the resentment towards Japanese-Americans, the anger Henry's nationalistic father has for his son's friendship with Keiko (China had been at war with Japan since 1933), and the compassion that popped up in the least expected places. Many of the details about Japanese internment life were consistent with what I've read in other books, but the real strength of this novel is the way the various relationships are portrayed. There might be a couple of historical discrepancies, and even though Henry is only 56 in 1986 he comes off as much older - very old, in fact. But these melt away under a heartfelt story. In fact, the whole family listened to it in the car and loved it - the kids even begging to listen to it again or sitting in the driveway after we'd arrived home to keep listening. They still talk about it occasionally.

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