The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
May 29, 2010 10 Comments
I very much enjoyed reading this book. It was a fast read for me.
It’s a historical fiction novel about the internment in WWII of Japanese and Americans with a Japanese background living in Seattle.
Henry is a 12 year old boy of Chinese origins who goes to an all-white school in the 1940s. His classmates tease him for being different. And after the attack against Pearl Harbor, they (and people in general) confront him for being Japanese. His father makes him wear a button saying “I am Chinese”.
His father is very anti-Japanese since the Japanese are at war with China at the same time. Henry befriends a new girl at school of Japanese origins (“I’m American” she says) who is treated just as bad as him. Her name is Keiko. Henry cannot mention this friendship at home, because his father would not allow it.
When the Americans start to round up Japanese citizens in the US to place them in camps, Henry is worried for Keiko. The novel is about the great love Henry and Keiko feel for each other, despite their young age. It is also about Henry respecting the wishes of his parents (or not).
The story is told from two perspectives: Henry in the 1940s and Henry in 1986, after his wife has died. This works well, although I thought the Henry in 1986 was described more like an old man than the 56-year old middle-aged man he was.
The language I found a bit childish at times, maybe trying to reflect Henry’s age in the 1940s. Or maybe it was due to the translation (I read this in Dutch).