Denise Morland, January 4, 2010 (view all comments by Denise Morland)
Hotel on the Corner of Butter and Sweet is Jamie Ford's beautifully written debut about Henry, a Chinese American growing up in Seattle during World War II. Henry struggles with his identity, his stubborn father, and when his best friend, a Japanese American girl, is sent to an internment camp he has to decide between love and loyalty.
This book is like a little slice of history complete with the sights, sounds and smells of Seattle during World War II, jazz music, salty sea air, and the sweet taste of duck sausage. There are so many themes touched in this story that it should feel overly crowded: first love, father-son relationships, immigrants, racism, and looming over everything World War II. Yet the story flows around and through Henry seamlessly and it is easy to find yourself deep in his world.
I completely and unashamedly fell in love with this book from the very beginning. At first I raced through it eager to see what would become of Henry, later I slowed my progress wanting to prolong my time with him and anxious about his ending. When the end came it was perfect, bitter and sweet, but so satisfying too.
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Leslie Hogue, June 3, 2009 (view all comments by Leslie Hogue)
Jamie Ford's beautiful first novel about the life of two teenagers in Seattle, Wa. Henry & Kieko meet just before the start of WWII at an all white school in Seattle. It is a wonderful view into the lives of different ethnic groups in Seattle in the 1940's then into the 1980's. It shows how the personal relationships evolve as different aspects infuence their lives.
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Andrea Cumbo, May 26, 2009 (view all comments by Andrea Cumbo)
Sometimes books take a while to get revved up, but when we let them get warm in our hands and settle us into our seats, we find gems in the pages. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford is one of those books.
The first few pages were a bit slow because they are so subtle. They tell the story of an old man, Henry, who finds himself stunned by a Japanese parasol that has been pulled out of an abandoned hotel in Seattle. Henry has lost his wife, and somehow this parasol triggers that spark of life that he needs to keep going. Ford’s writing embeds the importance of this event in the mundane, but if a reader keeps at it, she will find herself richly rewarded.
The book spans two timeframes in Seattle’s history - the 1980s and the 1940s - and describes the life of a Chinese-American (Henry) and a Japanese-American (Keiko) who become friends as children during World War II. The cultural complexities of that time when internment camps and Chinese nationalism ran high alongside the soft but biting racism against African-Americans give this novel a social dimension that fleshes out a great deal that I did not know (and was not taught) about the 1940s, particularly on the West Coast. I don’t remember ever reading about or hearing a teacher speak about Japanese Internment Camps here on the East Coast, and the mentions I had of that dark stain of American history came only when I lived in California and read Farewell to Manzanar. Maybe out of embarrassment we have tried to erase this element of our history. I’m glad Ford has brought it back to me, for it is only when we hide something that we cannot work to heal it.
But it’s not just the political and cultural elements of the novel that make it a valuable book; the writing and characterization are subtle and complex. None of the characters here are flat; none are simple; none are wholly right or wholly wrong - they are people. Additionally, the novel is well-paced and gripping for a mystery drives the book forward (a mystery I won’t reveal for those of you who will take my advice and pick up this book). Relationships quiver with life on these pages, and the setting - historically accurate Seattle - is rich and rewarding, reminding me a great deal of what I heard about San Francisco during the same time periods. The moments of tenderness and brutality in this book live fully, bringing me to tears and gasps even as I plowed ahead to hear what was next. And Henry, the protagonist, well, I love him - both as a child I want to help and protect and as an old man at whose feet I would like to sit.
Occasionally, Ford’s writing, particularly at the end of chapters, seems a bit forced, like he’s trying to be writerly, but these lines are overlooked in light of the clarity and richness of the story.
So please, pick up Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, carve out a leisurely afternoon, make a cup of green tea, and read the hours away while adding these characters and this history into your mind.
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itpdx, April 23, 2009 (view all comments by itpdx)
This is a book that will touch your heart and keep you thinking.
It starts with an inadvertent time capsule being opened. The family belongings of Japanese Americans stored when they were "evacuated" from Seattle's Japan Town are discovered in the basement of a long boarded-up hotel forty years later. Henry Lee, a recently widowed, Chinese American is sure that something very important to him is among the crates and suitcases stored there.
The book takes us back and forth between the Henry's growing up during the war years and his adjustments in the 80's to the loss of his wife, whom he has nursed for many years. We explore the complications of family communication when we see his immigrant parents send mixed messages about him "speaking American" and sending him to an all white school, but insisting that he finish his education in China. And we see Henry try to re-establish communication with his own college-age son.
We explore race as we see Henry and Keiko, his Japanese-American friend, endure the bullying of their classmates; we watch Henry's African-American musician friend, Sheldon, negotiate the un-written rules of northern segregation; we see the official policies toward people of Japanese descent during the war; and we even see the effects of racial red-lining.
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Britt Miglietta, March 9, 2009 (view all comments by Britt Miglietta)
A wonderful debut novel for Jamie Ford! This will have you itching for him to keep on writing! The characters are wonderfully constructed and help the reader feel the pain inflicted on Japanese Americans during WWII. It brings to light a painful period in the United States' past. This book was an absolute joy to read and will stay with me for a long time!
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"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Ford's strained debut concerns Henry Lee, a Chinese-American in Seattle who, in 1986, has just lost his wife to cancer. After Henry hears that the belongings of Japanese immigrants interned during WWII have been found in the basement of the Panama Hotel, the narrative shuttles between 1986 and the 1940s in a predictable story that chronicles the losses of old age and the bewilderment of youth. Henry recalls the difficulties of life in America during WWII, when he and his Japanese-American school friend, Keiko, wandered through wartime Seattle. Keiko and her family are later interned in a camp, and Henry, horrified by America's anti-Japanese hysteria, is further conflicted because of his Chinese father's anti-Japanese sentiment. Henry's adult life in 1986 is rather mechanically rendered, and Ford clumsily contrasts Henry's difficulty in communicating with his college-age son, Marty, with Henry's own alienation from his father, who was determined to Americanize him. The wartime persecution of Japanese immigrants is presented well, but the flatness of the narrative and Ford's reliance on numerous cultural cliches make for a disappointing read." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[Ford] writes earnestly and cares for his characters, who consistently defy stereotype. Ford posits great meaning in objects...but the most striking moments come from the characters' readings of each other."
by Library Journal,
"In his first novel...Ford expertly nails the sweet innocence of first love, the cruelty of racism...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."
by Kirkus Reviews,
"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."
by Garth Stein,
"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."
by Lisa See,
"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."
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 [stirringly] to life (Jim Tomlinson, author of "Things Kept, Things Left Behind").
A new novel by the author of The Last Chinese Chef, a love story between a black musician and a gangster's translator set against Shanghais dazzling jazz age and the looming menace of World War II, and "a rich and thoroughly captivating read." (Gail Tsukiyama, author of The Samurais Garden)
In 1936, classical pianist Thomas Greene is recruited to Shanghai to lead a jazz orchestra of fellow African-American expats. From being flat broke in segregated Baltimore to living in a mansion with servants of his own, he becomes the toast of a city obsessed with music, money, pleasure and power, even as it ignores the rising winds of war. Song Yuhua is refined and educated, and has been bonded since age eighteen to Shanghais most powerful crime boss in payment for her fathers gambling debts. Outwardly submissive, she burns with rage and risks her life spying on her master for the Communist Party. Only when Shanghai is shattered by the Japanese invasion do Song and Thomas find their way to each other. Though their union is forbidden, neither can back down from it in the turbulent years of occupation and resistance that follow. Torn between music and survival, freedom and commitment, love and world war, they are borne on an irresistible riff of melody and improvisation to Night in Shanghais final, impossible choice. In this stunningly researched novel, Nicole Mones not only tells the forgotten story of black musicians in the Chinese jazz age, but also weaves in a startling true tale of Holocaust heroism little-known in the West. View the Trailer: #LINK<www.nicolemones.com>#
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