Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Well, I’m working my way through my TBR pile. My most recent read was:


Image result for hotel corner of bitter and sweet

And it did not disappoint.

In this story, the new owner of the Panama Hotel has found the belongings of several Japanese-American families in the basement. These items were put there for safe keeping before the families were sent off to internment camps during WW II.  The owners never went back for their things and now it is like discovering and opening a time capsule. As our protagonist, Henry Lee, opens this time capsule we are transported back in time, to the 1940’s, to learn about his story and to find out what happened at that time.

This is a work  of historical fiction that calls attention to the treatment of Japanese-Americans during WW II on the West coast. 

 In many ways this story reminded me of the book I just finished reading: Orphan Train.  Much like Orphan Train, this is another story with a dual timeline. Also, similar to Orphan Train, we find the protagonist going through old boxes and once precious possessions in the present that trigger memories of the past. This time, the past is what happened to the Japanese-Americans in Seattle during WW II and a special relationship that blossomed in the midst of that chaos.

Once again, for me, it was the story that took place in the past that was the most interesting. I saw how anti-Japanese sentiment grew into racism and hatred. The author also shows the evacuation at Bainbridge Island, which, I learned, was the first place on the West coast where Japanese-Americans had to leave their homes and were then forced into camps. It seemed to mark the beginning of a sad course of events in American History.

There were some really heartbreaking scenes in this novel that I won’t forget- and don’t want to -that illustrated the lengths people went to to show that they were loyal Americans: they were burning treasured family possessions to prove that they were not a threat. This was the most heart-wrenching scene for me. However, the scene depicting the Bainbridge Island evacuation was also heartbreaking. 

Despite the serious subject matter of the internment of Japanese-Americans during WW II, this is actually a sweet story of friendship in the most unlikely of places. In a way it reminded me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (although a very different format) because of the sweet romance that develops despite the devastating events of WWII.

If I had a complaint about this book it would be that I wanted more details about how Japanese-Americans were forced to register, the various evacuations and camp life. But, that is not the primary focus of the book. However, to the author’s credit, he made me want to learn more about this period in American History.

This is primarily a story about relationships; a story about finding something beautiful and precious in the midst of pain and suffering.  I’m glad that I finally read this book. It was indeed bittersweet, however,  I would definitely recommend this book to others.