Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

A Novel

Book - 2009
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Set in the ethnic neighborhoods of Seattle during World War II and Japanese American internment camps of the era, this debut novel tells the heartwarming story of widower Henry Lee, his father, and his first love Keiko Okabe.
Publisher: New York : Ballantine Books, 2009.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780345505330
Branch Call Number: FICTION Ford Jamie 02/2009
Characteristics: 290 p. ;,25 cm.


From Library Staff

Set in the ethnic neighborhoods of Seattle during World War II and Japanese American internment camps of the era, this debut novel tells the story of widower Henry Lee, his father, and his first love Keiko Okabe.

hethl writes "This book is endearing, complex, and imaginative, with a well-executed plot and wonderfully fully-developed characters. Flash backs from adult lives are intertwined seamlessly as two 12 year olds, Henry and Keiko, come of age and fall in love under very difficult circumstances.... Read More »

We will be discussing this novel on Nov. 20th at 9am.

From the critics

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ArapahoeKati Apr 27, 2020

While the subject matter is extremely important and the setting was marvelous, the overall story between Henry and Keiko didn't quite engage me the way that other historical fiction novels about the treatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII has. Still, a pleasant and informative read but not one of my favorites.

Nov 03, 2019

This story of a new friendship between two teens of different nationalities, Chinese & Japanese from 1942 to current. Their friendship faces challenges that are hard for the teens to handle. The hardest is the internment of one that eventually severs their friendship. Their lives go on until one realizes they need to confront their past live.

Much of what was written about Seattle is very familiar. The prejudice that many Asians was real and documented in real life was minor in the story. It's an easy story to read with no twists or turns. Overall, it is a sad story but the title is very appropriate.

Aimee M Trudel
Sep 17, 2019

Jan's recommendation NF

Jul 29, 2019

I thought I was reading a Disney script for an after school special. Without explanation, someone would come to Henry’s aid. Or not. He was OCD about Keiko. Henry was way to young to be dealing with some adult problems. But I finished the book.

Jul 08, 2019

July WPL Book Club Selection: Sweet book! Absolutely loved this story....<3 Favourite book so far this year

May 02, 2019

I had known of the Japanese internment camps during WW2 but this book helped to make it real and gave me insight. It’s an old-fashioned love story à la Romeo and Juliet, rather sentimentally told and sugar coated. I appreciated the theme about “home” – what is it? where is it? how we can never go back to that remembered sense of home. But while the content is admirable and interesting for its authenticity, Ford’s writing style is simplistic and repetitive, as if he wants to make sure we "get it." I’m a stickler for good writing. I’m glad I read it but not sure I’d recommend it.
A quote I liked: ”I try not to live in the past, but the past lives in me.”

Feb 26, 2019

i read this book to fulfil the goal read a book that contains the worlds salty, sweet, bitter or spicy in the title. It was a bit slow going at first, but i enjoyed it at the end. it is a fiction work, but contains some true elements.

Dec 10, 2018

DNF @ 45%. I almost made it the whole year without DNFing (Did-not-finish) a book. I decided that rather than slog through this story (which I believe has a rather predictable ending) I would call it quits, put it down and move on to something else I actually enjoyed. I couldn't bring myself to give this book a 1 star, even though I didn't finish it- because it's not TERRIBLE. It's just boring, repetitive and trying way too hard to be something that it's not. This story would have been fabulous as a novella or as part of a short story compilation. It feels too long and bloated for its own good, to be very honest. The emotions and feelings are there, but as the novel drags on and the same scenes are replayed over and over, it seems like the author is playing the same notes expecting the same responses. Yes, this child is bullied for being of Asian descent. His friend gets taken away to an internment camp because she's Japanese. The war is going on and there are foods being rationed, and fear is everywhere. This is all too true, and harsh, and accurate, but would have certainly been more poignant and powerful as a chord played once, rather than a child mangling a piano for five minutes.

IndyPL_SteveB Nov 26, 2018

This is a moving novel of American history, racial divides, and family.

In 1986, widower Henry Lee is standing in front of an abandoned Seattle hotel, when the new owner brings out a Japanese parasol, left behind from World War II. His memories flash back to 1942, when he was the only Chinese-American student in the white middle school and his best friend was Keiko, the only Japanese-American girl at that school. As Ford spins out his tale, Henry for the first time tells his son of his own family conflicts with his conservative father over his friendship with Keiko.

You will see World War II from an entirely different perspective than you have ever imagined it before. Of course the Japanese families were hated because of the war and were soon placed into what were essentially prison camps. But the Chinese families had nearly as much prejudice against them as Asians, even though the Chinese were our allies against the Japanese. Ford does an excellent job of portraying the complexities of these relationships and of the mixed emotions of sorrow and happiness.

It is the story of friendship, love, and relationships as told by a 50+ year old second-generation Chinese-American. This wonderful piece of historical fiction seamlessly flows between the 1940’s and 1986, as it delves into the effects, and the aftermath, of the Japanese internment in the Seattle area. Ford does an exceptional job of exploring the history and attitudes of the time, with unique insight into the generational and racial views surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbour, and the consequences of being a minority in a very American setting. Whether you are a sucker for great historical fiction, want a quick cultural history lesson, or one of those that remember the rollercoaster that is first love, book a room at the Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and stay a while! (submitted by JF)

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Oct 23, 2016

blue_dog_8329 thinks this title is suitable for 10 years and over

Sep 05, 2015

bandanana thinks this title is suitable for 10 years and over

orange_cat_2301 Aug 13, 2012

orange_cat_2301 thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

blue_raven_28 Jun 26, 2012

blue_raven_28 thinks this title is suitable for 11 years and over

Jun 19, 2012

hlsadler thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over


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Jul 02, 2013

This is a beautifully written book showing both the pain and beauty of love, music & friendship among the challenges of assimilation, discrimination and war.

Jun 19, 2012

A young Chinese-American boy befriends a Japanese-American girl who is displaced into a Japanese-American Interment camp.


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Oct 23, 2016

"Thank you and you have a fine day sir" -Sheldon and Henry

Jan 23, 2011

The hardest choices in life aren't between what's right and what's wrong but between what's right and what's best.


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