Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetI read The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (Random House - Ballantine) back in February. Yes, I am behind on reviews. (Only about 15 more books to catch up on, though!) I'd recommended the book as a gift for others, but hadn't gotten around to reading it myself, and I kept putting it off; I think I had the wrong idea about it from the cover, or maybe from not looking closely at the cover. (I was expecting something set along a boardwalk-like place in Italy. I have no idea why.)

If I had had a better idea of what the book was about--I was avoiding spoilers!--I might have read it sooner. The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is set in WWII-era Seattle and the modern day. A (first-generation Chinese) man, whose wife has just died, passes by a hotel that has been closed for many years, and sees that the belongings of Japanese families who were interned were retrieved from the hotel's basement. He remembers a Japanese-American girl he knew as a child, as well as what was happening with internment camps, politics (particularly local ones), music, discrimination, and the like, while--in the present story--trying to sort out his feelings about his wife's death, about his relationship with his son (who's marrying a white girl), and what happened to his friend Keiko.

I had a hard time getting into the first couple of chapters; they felt rough, to me. But, after that, I was completely hooked on this story of lost love--and the history, the setting, the story. Some of it shocked me; for example, there's a mention of two adults not able to be married because of their skin color, and I realized that it hasn't been nearly long enough since that was how things were. I recognized some of the same (often irrational) fears that drive people to do things not in keeping with human civility. And so on.

While I've never lived in Seattle, I've spent enough time there to enjoy the city as character; for example, there was mention of a street that's now a place to get on and off I-5, an exit that's always my nemesis when I visit. I've driven through some of the areas where the characters live and work on my way to other places.

Despite my interest in WWII-era music, I don't recall spending a lot of time on WWII in history classes, and I've always been much more interested in culture and pop culture of time periods than I have been in who was at war with whom and the details of battles. The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet isn't a history book, but it opened my eyes to some things that I never knew had gone on so near to where I lived. I would be very interested in reading more by this author, no matter what the subject.

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