59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad, heartwarming, bitter and sweet
The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet tells the story of a young Chinese-American boy, Henry Lee, and his lifelong love for his childhood friend, Keiko Okabe. The story is partly set in 1942, when America is at war and 'enemy' citizens (those with Italian, German but mainly Japanese heritage) are being interned in prison camps. Henry is a lonely child - sent to an...
Published on 10 July 2011 by Denise4891
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I came to this book with great expectations after reading all the reviews, but found it to be very disappointing. The problem for me was that I didn't believe in any of the characters and found the plot to be entirely predictable.
The novel tells the story of Henry Lee, a Chinese American, passing back and forth between his teenage years in the 1940's and 1986...
Published on 24 July 2011 by Marand
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59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad, heartwarming, bitter and sweet,
The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet tells the story of a young Chinese-American boy, Henry Lee, and his lifelong love for his childhood friend, Keiko Okabe. The story is partly set in 1942, when America is at war and 'enemy' citizens (those with Italian, German but mainly Japanese heritage) are being interned in prison camps. Henry is a lonely child - sent to an almost all-white school by his stern parents, his only friend is Keiko, a young girl of Japanese descent who, like Henry, is earning her scholarship by working in the school kitchens. They are only 12 when the story begins and their friendship and blossoming romance is sensitively portrayed.
As the grip of war tightens, Keiko and her family are among the thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent who are rounded up and imprisoned, supposedly to prevent them 'spying' for the enemy, and what belongings they can't take with them are hurridly stashed in the basement of the Panama Hotel.
The story of Henry and Keiko's wartime friendship is interspersed with flash-forwards to 1986, when Henry has taken early retirement and, after a happy marriage, is alone again with occasional visits from his somewhat distant son Marty. When he learns that the belongings of those Japanese families have been unearthed from the basement of the recently re-opened Panama Hotel, it reawakens his feelings for his wartime friend and his curiosity about what became of her and her family.
This is a beautifully told story, heartwarming and beguiling but thankfully not over-sentimental or twee. In his Author's Note, Jamie Ford says that he wished to recreate the internment of Japanese-Americans "without judging the good or bad intentions of those involved at the time". It's hard not to judge, but this was wartime and the pervading atmosphere of suspicion and fear, however irrational, is convincingly brought to life. A highly recommended read which manages to educate as well as entertain, I'm not surprised so many people have already fallen in love with this book.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb!,
t's at times like this that I wish I were a writer and not just a reader as there is no way my words can ever do this beautiful novel the justice that it deserves. I would go as far as using the word 'masterpiece' to describe it and I feel a little bereft at the thought that I no longer have the wonderful world of Henry Lee to escape to having finished the book.
A dual time narrative, set in 1942 and 1986 - in Seattle, USA, with Henry Lee as the main character. In 1942, Henry is 13 years old and attending a Caucasian school in the city. Henry doesn't really know just who he is. At home he is forbidden to speak Cantonese as his parents want him to be 'American', yet neither his Father or his Mother speak English well enough to hold a conversation. At school, he is bullied and picked on by the white American pupils and called a 'white devil' by the Chinese kids in the area who attend the Chinese school. And then there is the badge that his Father insists that he wear on his jacket - the one that reads 'I Am Chinese'. Henry's father is terrified that someone will mistake him for a a Japanese boy - America is at war and the Japanese are the enemy, even those that were born in America.
At school, Henry helps out in the school canteen and it is when American-born of Japanese parents, Keiko begins to work there too that he realises just how different he is to his father. To him Keiko is his special friend, she's American, her parents are professional people, she doesn't even speak Japanese. Henry and Keiko become allies - discovering Jazz music and spending hours together.
And then, the USA Government decide to 'evacuate' everyone of Japanese origin. Keiko and her family are sent to ready-made internment camps where they will stay for the next three years or so. In the rush to leave, some of the Japanese families ask their friends to look after some of their possessions - others are stored in the basement of the Panama Hotel. It is when Henry's father finds Keiko's possessions in his room that he finally stops speaking to him altogether.
The 1980s section of the story opens with the discovery of the possessions that have been stored in the basement for over 40 years - as Henry passes by, all his memories of his friendship with Keiko rush back to him - memories both bitter and sweet.
To say anymore about the story would give it all away - and I don't want to do that. I do want to urge everyone to pick up this wonderfully written, beautifully evocative story and read it. It's in no way soppy or sentimental, yet it is a true love story, but also a story that will haunt the reader. The treatment of the Japanese people, the internment camps and the subsequent loss of identity is a terrible thing, yet the stoicism and acceptance of the people shines through in this story - the whole book captures the resilience of humans. The characters are expertly drawn, with Henry and his jazz-playing friend Sheldon being my favourites.
A fantastic debut, very well researched, tenderly written - a hugely satisfying read.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading,
This is a wonderfully written book which really makes you feel for the characters. It is split between 1942 and 1986 and follows Henry, a young Chinese-American boy who does not fit in at his all white school, he is completely alone at school until Keiko, a Japanese-American joins his class and quickly becomes his best friend and the love of his life. When Keiko and her family are sent away to a labour camp, Henry swears he will always wait for her.
I never knew anything about how Chinese or Japanese people were treated during WW2, obviously on the whole the Japanese were seen as the enemy but I'd never considered the effect this must have had on those who were actually brought up to be US citizens. It would never have dawned on me that there would have been an effect on Chinese people based in the US (particularly from the fact a lot of people cannot tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese). This book, highlights the treatment not only of these two races but also of black people in the US during the war however, it does this in a way that is not judgemental, it is just telling it how it was.
This is a truly beautifully written book that really stirs up your emotions. It is one of my favourite reads of the year and I can highly recommend it.
36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely, lovely read,
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This is such an enjoyable read, which deserves to be a bestseller. I haven't recommended it to anyone who doesn't agree.
Enough has been said by previous reviewers regarding the plot. Suffice to say that it is beautifully written story of thwarted young love, never oversentimentalised or mawkish. The research is impeccable and highlights the after effects of war on innocents.
There are many finely drawn supporting characters who would warrant short stories themselves.
My favourite read in 2010. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Charming and heartwarming tale,
Henry Lee is a 13 year old Chinese/American boy, living in Seattle during World War 2. He becomes friendly with a Japanese/American girl named Keiko. However, to Henry's father, a man still steeped in the Chinese culture, the Japanese are the enemy, and so Henry's friendship with Keiko takes on an air of forbidden love.
Keiko and her family get transported to a prisoner of war camp, along with all the other Japanese families, and their belongings are stored in the Panama Hotel. In 1986, Henry watches as belongings that have been there for over 40 years are unearthed.
This is a dual time narrative story, and the two strands run alongside each other very well. It's an easy to read book, and is quite charming and heartwarming. My only gripes were that sometimes the writing was a little twee, and I can't quite believe two 13 year olds would feel quite such a depth of emotion, but apart from that I really loved reading this book.
I thought the ending was lovely, and rounded off the story very satisfactorily. It's a very pleasant read that kept me wanting to find out what happened to Henry and Keiko.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical novel with sociology theme,
This novel deals with a mostly forgotten event in American history following the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is written with great sensitivity for the Japanese and Chinese characters depicted, while at the same time describing the ethnic paranoia that the attack caused among the 'pure' US citizens. There is a lesson in this book that I fear we have not all learned yet
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book ... not what I expected,
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Its a nice story and well written. It wasnt really what I expected from the cover and reviews. I thought this would go into greater depth about the Japanese camps in America, but it is more fictional and a love story rather than a factual account.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This hotel is 5 stars...,
Life can be tough when you are 12, going on 13 and wondering if you are falling in love for the first time. When it happens to be the middle of a World War, you are of Chinese origin and torn between two cultures things are more complicated too, and when the object of your affections is American born Japanese, life is not set to be straightforward. Such is the situation for Henry, in Seattle in a book that sees the story going between 1986 and a post Pearl Harbour America in 1942. The 56 year old recently widowed Henry is made to recall his past self when the Panama Hotel, the one of the title, is being renovated and the discovery is made of lots of objects left by Japanese families who were forcibly sent to camps in the War years. The scene is set for the story of Henry and his Japanese friend Keiko to be told in a book that is both utterly compelling and an education into an aspect of the Second World War that is probably an untold one - how does a country cope when some of their own citizens are, on paper, the "enemy"?
"Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" is quite simply a delightful book that will touch the hardest heart. Far more than a classic coming of age story, this novel touches on many interesting themes. We know from the start that Henry is destined to be the husband of an "Ethel", but as the book unfolds we learn much about his 13 year old self and are reminded quite how different the world was back then, particularly if you were non-white and living in America. Open racism is a fact of life, and one that Sheldon the black Jazz player, Keiko the beautiful Japanese girl and Henry, the offspring of parents who make him "speak American", even though they can't understand him, all experience in different ways.
I found that this book was really unputdownable and that I really cared what happened to the characters. Though told in the third person, their world became real for me and I thought that this book was beautifully written and had a strong story that worked really well, even with the constant juxtaposition between different times. The book was well paced and didn't disappoint me in any way, it was one of those books that I was really sad to see end, I could have read on some more.
I really think this book deserves a full 5 stars, and will definitely be looking out for more from this author, this book is a real future classic and will definitely be one I will read again.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent historical novel ... best book this year!,
I have read a lot of novels based during the second world war, mostly about the treatment of Jew's during this time. This is the first novel i've read that explains what happened to the American Japanese population. I had absolutely no idea that they were all herded up and taken to camps, in an eerily similar way to the Jewish population in Germany.
The novel moves between the 1940's and the 1980's and shows clearly how much we have all moved on from the tragedies of the second world war. The 1980's situation in America seems to be much more accepting thankfully. I really enjoyed seeing the differences between the way people lived in the two time periods, although i did have trouble with how old Henry was in the 1980's. He kept coming across as much older than his 50 odd years.
This is not a fast moving novel, it's all about well described very emotional moments in Henry's life and the lives of the people around him. Definitely a book i would recommend!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an insight to a part og history I have not thought about,
A touching and moving account of an older mans memories and past , his relationship with his son and also the relationship he had with his father. The conflicts of being American born but of the wrong ethnic race in a time when America was suffering its own loses. It tells of a part of history that I have not thought a lot about in the past, and I found moving.
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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford