Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

For “A book with antonyms in the title” I chose Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. I found this book on a Goodreads list for the 2015 Reading Challenge.

Of course, much to my surprise, after I finished the book and read the author’s bio, I learned that Jamie Ford is a resident of my home state. Yeah, I totally missed the sticker on the spine there…

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is split between two time frames, 1986 and the 1940s. It follows the journey of Henry Lee, a Chinese-American living in Seattle. When forgotten belongings of Japanese families are discovered in the basement of the long-abandoned Panama Hotel, old Henry recognizes an umbrella that he believes belonged to Keiko, a Japanese-American friend from his boyhood. Young Henry’s story with Keiko unfolds over the course of World War II, while old Henry in 1986 begins a quest to see if Keiko’s belongings really are in the basement of the Panama Hotel.

Young Henry deals with the bullies at school and his father, who hates all Japanese. His friendships with Keiko and Sheldon, a black saxophone player, are touching. Because he’s going to an “all-white” school, he has few friends among Seattle’s Chinatown residents. His world gets turned even more upside-down when the American government decides that all the Japanese must be relocated to camps and Keiko is taken away.

I really enjoyed the book along with the reminder of a serious point in American history. Somehow, I don’t remember learning in school about the Japanese-Americans getting taken away. We like to focus on the POW camps and concentration camps that were on the other side of the world. We forget that we had something similar here, though thankfully they weren’t quite as bad.

When I read stories like that, I often wonder if such things could still happen today. Could people today deemed to be “a danger to society” be taken to camps surrounded by barbed wire and machine guns? Or maybe they’d be taken away “for their own protection” as the Japanese were. How free is our land of the free?

My next book is “A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet” and I’ve picked out Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.

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