It's been awhile since I've recommended a good read. Last night, I finished Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I cried twiec in the last chapters. My paternal grandmother was known for saying that she didn't get her money's worth at a movie unless she had a a good cry. And she was going to the silent movies!
This novel uses an interesting technique of jumping from the war years of the early '40's to the mid '80's. An old hotel where belongings of many Japanese families were stored serves as the vessel to take us from one era to the other. In a chapter or two, we are seeing life through the eyes of a young Chinese boy in Seattle, and in other chapters, we live with Henry as a middle-aged man. The author is part Chinese and familiar with the Seattle area and the rounding up of thousands of Japanese-Americans during WWII. This is the background for the story of friendship and love between Henry and a Keiko, a young Japanese girl who goes to the all-white school with Henry until her family is sent to an internment camp.
Henry has problems at home with his stern father, a deep and lasting friendship with a black jazz saxophone player, and an unusual ally in a gruff cook at the school. Jamie Ford's characters are well drawn and memorable. Henry has a hard time in the all-white school. At his father's insistence, he wears a button on his shirt that read I am Chinese. Obedience to family wins out over the humiliation of wearing the button in front of the school bullies.
We follow Henry and Keiko's friendship and innocent love of twelve to thirteen year old kids. Through the years, we see Henry's devotion to the first girl he ever loved and to the man who introduced them to jazz music. We are given the background of the internment camps and given the choice to decide if it was just or not. This is a story of people from different cultures intermingling and learning to live together. It is the story of Henry as a boy and Henry as a father. Most of all, it's a story that will touch your heart and stay with you after you've read the final chapter.