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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This novel has a dual timeframe narrative set in Seattle, telling the story of twelve year old Chinese American boy Henry Lee in 1942-5, and much later in his life, in 1986. In the more recent story, Henry happens upon the local landmark, the Panama Hotel, under new ownership, where there has been the discovery of many personal belongings in the basement. These were Japanese people's possessions, left there in desperation when the Japanese Americans living in the area were taken to internment camps during World War II. The belongings cause Henry to stop and wonder and reflect on an unfinished chapter in his past.

In the earlier part of the story, Henry is growing up in the Chinatown area of Seattle, and his parents have made the decision to send him to the American school, and that he must speak English. As the only nonwhite pupil, he is an outsider there, ostracized and bullied, until Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American girl, arrives, and the two become firm friends, united in their isolation from the others, and by the conflict in their identities and a sense of not belonging to any community wholly. The two of them spend many happy hours together, and their friendship grows, with each feeling stronger emotions but being only young teenagers they struggle to express themselves. Henry has another good friend nearby, Sheldon, who is to be found playing his saxophone in town, where many Jazz clubs are based. Things have already been difficult for Henry, his parents disapprove of his friendship with Keiko because of the Japanese invasion of China, and when the attack on Pearl Harbour occurs, and the USA enters the war, everything changes forever.

This is a moving, heart-rending story - to steal from the book's title, bittersweet really does describe this tale. I loved Henry and Keiko, and also Sheldon, great characters who I really grew to care about as I read on. Their friendships are strong and true. Henry has a difficult relationship with his parents, trying to meet their expectations but also start to lead his own life, and make his own decisions. I was surprised that when the war ends there was no mention of what had happened in Japan. It's a special book, filled with struggles, separation and sadness, but equally with friendship, love and hope. I knew nothing about the events in these communities; I found it fascinating and feel this novel really highlights this through its story.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The hero of this novel is Henry Lee, a 12 year old boy living in Seattle in 1942. He was born in America but his parents are Chinese and barely speak a word of English. His parents want Henry to live his life in accordance with traditional Chinese values but at the same time they send him to an all-white school and insist that he speaks only English at home. So Henry is caught between two conflicting worlds. To make matters worse, Henry forms a close relationship with Keiro, a young Japanese girl. Henry's father disapproves and tries to break up the relationship. In addition, the story starts just after the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbour and America is now at war. As a result there is huge prejudice against the Japanese living in America and indeed, all of the Japanese are rounded up and moved from their homes to internment camps. The book moves backwards and forwards between 1942 and 1986 and we are able to see the extent to which American Society has changed over the years. This is a delightful novel, beautifully written. The characters, especially Henry and Keiro, are well developed and we genuinely care for them. The book vividly portrays life in a Chinese community in America in the war years. I must stress, however, that this is not a war story, it is very much a love story with war as a background. I loved the book, finding it both entertaining and moving. It also gave me an insight into a section of American Society and an aspect of American history about which I knew nothing. Altogether, a great read which I thoroughly recommend.
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VINE VOICEon 15 August 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
1942: Henry is having a hard time. He has been told not to speak Chinese at home with his family, even though they can't speak English well. At his new school he is being bullied. His friendship with Keiko is one of the few good things which has happened to him. They share an interest in jazz music. However, Keiko is Japanese, and soon has to go and live with her family in an internment camp, as America and Japan are at war and they are enemy aliens. Henry continues to visit and as they grow up they start to fall in love.

1986: Middle aged Henry has been widowed. As well as mourning his wife Ethel, he remembers his first love, Keiko, and their experiences in wartime Seattle, and wonders what happened to her.
This novel is an absorbing page turner, and I was caught up in the story of the two children. The portrayal of two young people caught between their immigrant parents and the country they now live in, between a desire to assimilate and conflicting loyalties to their own families and to each other, is fascinating. I really enjoyed the story of Henry's friendship with Keiko and also with a black jazz musician. Henry and Keiko are memorable characters.

The 1980s scenes didn't work quite so well. Why does a man in his mid 50s consider himself an old man?

Several recent historical novels have explored this period in history and the wartime internment in the US of enemy aliens. This love story is an interesting look at that issue.
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VINE VOICEon 17 July 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There are several excellent reviews of this book here already and I won't even attempt to compete. Suffice to say, I loved this book. We follow the life of 12 year old Henry, a Chinese boy who is bullied by classmates at an all white American school and has a very remote relationship with his parents. Apart from an older man Sheldon, a black saxaphone player who busks on street corners, his only other friend is Keiko, an American born Japanese girl of similar age who joins him at the school. The story alternates between 1942-45 and 1986 and although I knew about Pearl Harbour, I never knew that the Americans rounded up their Japanese citizens and transferred them to interment camps for the duration of the war in case they were spies. The hardships that these Japanese families suffered and the loss of their homes, businesses and possessions made for very difficult reading.

Henry's feelings of confusion between loyalty to his parents and to his friend Keiko are very well explored, as is his developing friendship and feelings for her. As Henry grows older, he becomes more assertive, particularly with his controlling father and those scenes with Henry and his then ailing father are very moving.

Every page of this book was a joy to read and I became totally immersed in the story. Its quite rare that I'm sad to reach the end of a book, but it was certainly the case with this book.
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VINE VOICEon 5 August 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It's 1986 in Seattle and the Panama Hotel, once the heart of the international district, is being uncovered since being boarded up during WWII. Henry Lee has tried to keep his distance from the landmark to protect himself from the hurt suffered in his teens. However, since the recent passing of his wife Ethel, he gathers in the crowd to see if there is any hope of finding a link to Keiko Okabe, his childhood sweetheart.

The narrative moves back and forth between 1986 and the discovery of the artefacts long left by Japanese families, and 1942 when Henry, struggling to fit in as the only Chinese student in an all white school meets young Japanese girl, Keiko. Jamie Ford really explores what it was like to live during the war years, particularly for Henry struggling to understand his identity as an American citizen whilst living with his strict Chinese parents.

Despite being set during the war and exploring social issues in America at that time, it is a story of family as Henry begins to bond with his often-distant son, of friendship between Henry and jazz musician Sheldon, and mostly of love. I enjoyed the setting of Seattle and of all the characters who are painted vividly. I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a love story that is both bitter and sweet.
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on 19 September 2014
Until I read The Buddha In The Attic recently I knew nothing of the plight of Japanese immigrants in America during WWII but that novel opened my eyes to the problems they encountered.Having read and very much enjoyed that book I was drawn to Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet due to its similar subject matter. I was not disappointed.

This is a totally delightful novel. It covers so many difficult life choices (and there were certainly many such choices for a Chinese boy growing up in Seattle in 1942) and deals with each beautifully.

In common with many novels involving children on the verge of adulthood we see aspects of bullying, first love and parenting. But a mixed race relationship, first generation immigration and a background of wars raging between America and Japan and China and Japan gives added interest to each of those themes.

Jamie Ford tells Henry and Keiko's story in a flowing style which switches regularly between past and present. His characters are generally decent (or at least well-meaning) people and the story is fast moving with some excellent scenes including a memorable chase. However my overriding feeling for the book is a degree of poignancy that I have not experienced for some time.

I strongly recommend it.
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on 7 March 2016
Pre Pearl Harbour bombing, Henry, a Chinese boy, befriends Keiko, a Japanese girl at the school for whites that they both attend. This would be contrary to his father's wishes- his father is still recalling the cruelty of the Japanese when they conquered China before he left it in his teens. Henry is stoic in accepting the bullying at school. The background for the growing friendship is the area around the Hotel on the corner which undergoes various names.The story of the book revolves around racial discrimination-White versus Japanese or Chinese, Chinese versus Japanese. Keiko was born in the US and doesn't speak Japanese but is still interned with the rest of her family after Pearl Harbour is bombed.Only the hotel survives the looting by whites that follows. Though Henry visits Keiko in the internment camp, his letters don't get answered, another twist, and eventually he gives up his two year wait for her and begins another relationship.
The book spans most of the twentieth century with many flashbacks. The book has a surprise ending that confirms that love conquers all. It's fundamentally about humanity and the need to accept both the bitter and sweet in life.
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on 22 September 2015
I read this book after seeing several recommendations which all featured the word “cute” to describe it. They were right. There is a great deal of cuteness in this book, perhaps surprising given the serious events and issues which form the background and part of Henry and Keiko’s story.

I enjoyed the story and the ending is absolutely pitch perfect. However, I couldn’t rate the book any higher as I had some issues with the writing style. For me, there was too much unnecessary “telling” where some more “showing” or saying nothing would have done the trick. In some places the flow was also a bit “off”, although I would find it hard to explain why I felt this way.

As a Brit, unsurprisingly, my education about WWII focused mainly on Britain and the rest of Europe. Consequently, I thought the description of what happened to Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor was fascinating. The book was also refreshingly non-preachy, reporting the events and leaving the reader to make their own moral judgements.

A sweet story taking place amid interesting events, I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and/or cute romance.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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on 18 January 2015
This is a love story that spans decades, with Chinese Henry and Japanese Keiko becoming friends and then falling in love. The separations between Chinese and Japanese that already exist means Henry is unable to disclose the friendship to his family. When his family does find out his father refuses to talk to him for many years. This is a lovely story showing how difficult it is for immigrant children trying to fit into a new life while having to maintain the old life expected by their parents. It explores the racial tension around the time the U.S. enters WW2, when Japanese citizens became hated and were held in camps to separate them from American society.
The story jumps back and forward in time, describing Henry as a widow with his own son, and Henry's story as a 12 year old with Keiko. As Henry meets his sons non Asian fiancee he reflects on his past and tracks down and meets the adult Keiko, the 'sweet' after the 'bitter' of the past.
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