One of my book clubs chose The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford as our February selection. This book has long been in my mind as one I’d like to read and it came highly recommended by other readers whose opinions I trust. I’d been laboring under the impression that this book club had already picked that book for one of the meetings I missed so I was very happy to be mistaken.
The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a teenaged love story. I know I know, but it’s not that bad. If you can get over the fact that these kids are thirteen when they “fall in love” you will love this book. And really folks, compared to a lot of what is out there, the relationship is so very innocuous, please don’t let it distract you.
The story is set in Seattle and the chapters flip back and forth between present day and “the war years.” It’s the story of Henry Lee, the single child of a very traditional Chinese family who has been given the opportunity to go to an all white school where he meets Keiko Okabe, a Japanese girl who he befriends much to the chagrin of his parents. It’s probably very easy to see where this is going. Of course the book opens very close to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and quickly Henry and Keiko are separated just as they are becoming more than friends.
Henry is an old man when the book opens and has recently been widowed. He’s long ago lost track of Keiko, but a surprising discovery of countless forgotten Japanese belongings in the basement of an abandoned hotel causes him to confront his old feelings. Along the way he navigates his relationship with his son and the two slowly become closer.
This is a really sweet story. It has a bit of mystery, a bit of historical fiction, a bit of romance, and a bit of culture. Henry is a protagonist you can respect. His forgiving attitude after all his father put him through was commendable. His selfless love of his wife was inspirational, and by the way I think their love story was very sweet on its own terms.
Also, Jamie Ford’s writing is phenomenal. He just tells a really good story and tells it well! I immediately added his other novel to my “to read” list on Goodreads. I hope it’s as good as this one. I’m just so happy that a contemporary author was able to write a compelling and beautiful story without anything bad in it. There isn’t one bad word or any sex in the whole book. Incredible! I’d shake Mr. Ford’s hand if I knew him.
The only teeny criticism I have is that the end just seemed too unbelievable. Maybe just a little contrived. But I readily forgave it, because I wanted it to end that way anyway. I’m so happy to have had the chance to read this book. It was great!
And of course because one star Goodreads reviews are so much funnier than five star ones, this reviewer said: “I am not the target audience. I am no fan of the sweet and sentimental; of pathos and wistfulness; of romance and thwarted love. And I despise Orson Scott Card, who helped get this book written, for his stalwart work on behalf of homophobia. Science fiction writers who are on the wrong side of history belong in the special hell.” That’s right, why review a book when you could just take pot shots at a totally different author and judge them....for being judgmental.