Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford
Lizzie rating: 4.5/5
Henry Lee has a foot in two houses. At home, he is unable to speak to his parents who demand he speak only English despite the fact that they speak Cantonese to him and each other. At school, he is the only Asian kid in his elementary school. His neighborhood, Seattle’s Chinatown, is, like the rest of the world, perched on the brink of World War II. The war is increasingly creeping into the edges of daily life. Henry is struggling to find his place against the expectations of his parents. A small reprieve is granted when Keiko transfers to his school. As another outsider they quickly form a friendship. However, Keiko and her family are Japanese, a fact unsettling to both Henry’s father and the American government. The story moves between the mid-1940s and 1986, juxtaposing Henry’s childhood observations with his midlife reflections.
Jamie Ford does a masterful job of depicting the changing city and the families caught up in the rippling effects of a country at war. As a native Seattlite, I particularly appreciated the rich description of neighborhoods I’ve spent time in, even if they aren’t my home turf. The story is engrossing and even if you’re familiar with the history you’ll find yourself anxious to see what happens.