Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Warning! Spoilers ahead! I really wanted to give this more than a 3 star rating, but I just can’t justify it. It’s a very nice story, and it had so much promise. The author clearly did a lot of research on the 1940s and the internment camps. But the scenes in 1986 were horribly anachronistic. 2006 would be more realistic, and Henry sure seemed to be portrayed as a lot older than 56. I kept waiting for Henry’s reminiscences to end, and for him to decide to seek out his long lost love, and it never happened. The dual time frame just wasn’t handled very well. The childhood relationship should have ended when Keiko was sent away to the Japanese camp. I would have found it more believable for the parents to have intercepted letters at that point. And then the second half of the book should have been about Henry’s search to find out what happened to her. Instead, the story kind of went off a cliff at that point. What 13-year old would get on a train by himself, and sneak into an internment camp to visit his girlfriend? A 17 or 18 year old maybe. There is no clear end to the relationship – they continue writing to each other – it just seems to peter out after several years, and as Henry says later “I let her go.” At 15 (!) he has met Ethel and asked her to marry him. Fifteen? Really? So at the last chapter, we’re still waiting for the older Henry to decide to do something after all these memories have been stirred up. His whole outlook on life seems to fit someone who’s closer to 86 than 56. And then his son just hands him airline tickets and says, oh by the way, I went online and found her… in 1986. Right. And of course Keiko just happens to be a widow… and they all live happily ever after.

I did like the portrayal of the different cultures involved: Chinese, Japanese American, and African American. The jazz music angle and Henry’s relationship with Sheldon added a lot to the story. Overall, I enjoyed it. I just think the plot devices could have been better handled. It also should have been marketed as a YA novel.

Outside the old Panama Hotel in Seattle, Henry Lee watches a crowd gathering as personal belongings of Japanese families who were sent to internment camps are retrieved from the hotel’s basement. Henry recalls his WWII prep school days at the exclusive Ranier Academy, where he developed an innocent love for a young Japanese student, Keiko. The sight of a parasol inspires in him a quest to uncover what became of Keiko and her family.