Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford FIC FORD, LARGE PRINT FIC FORD, CDBOOK FIC FORD
Henry Lee is 12 years old when Japan bombs Pearl Harbor. After the attack, his Chinese immigrant parents insist that he speak only “American,” and attend an all-white school on scholarship. When he befriends Keiko Okabe, a second-generation Japanese-American who joins him at his new school, Henry hides the friendship from his hyper-nationalistic father. As Henry sees the impact of the war on Keiko and her family, the reasoning behind the “I am Chinese” button his father forces him to wear become crystal clear. Years later, when the belongings of several Japanese families are discovered in the basement of the Panama Hotel, Henry is caught up in the memories of the innocent love of his childhood.
If I were to rate the book on plot summary alone, it would be a glowing review. I’m a sucker for a romantic story. I love historical fiction. I love any novel that helps raise awareness of historical events (here, racism in the mid-20th century and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II). Plus, the novel is a best-seller.
All that being said, I’ve also got to say this: I did not enjoy reading this book. My displeasure stems from three factors: glaring historical anachronisms, a lack of detail, and writing style.
The story follows two timelines: 1942 and 1986. A few details bother me in the 1986 story. Though they are minor details, I found them to be extremely distracting. Also, problems with the part of the plot that takes place only 25 years ago leaves me wondering about the accuracy of the 1942 narrative. Friends have told me that I shouldn’t bog down in the details so much – I should just enjoy the story! But to me, if an author chooses to set their novel in a specific time period, and that time period is intregal to the story itself, then the author is obligated to accurately portray that time period.
Many of the rest of my qualms with the story itself stem from my desire for more detail. The characters felt flat to me. I wanted more from them. The chapters are short, and the book is somewhat light at 290 pages, so some fleshing out would have easily fit.
Finally, I was not enthralled with Ford’s writing. While straight-forward and easy to read, it felt plodding at times. Several aspects of the dialog bothered me very much.
Overall, this book was not a good match for me. As far as a romantic story with a twist of mystery goes, I’d much rather read Snow Falling on Cedars again.