Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” is a first novel by Jamie Ford, who used his own family’s stories to bring to life this tale of a father-son relationship and a forbidden first love set amidst the racial/ethnic tensions of World War II Seattle.
The book opens in the same city in 1986, when Henry Lee, a middle-aged widower, happens upon news crews gathered at the long-shuttered Panama Hotel.
The hotel is the site of a discovery: The possessions of 37 Japanese families, hidden there when Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during the war, have just come to light.
Amidst these forgotten treasures Henry uncovers memories of his 12-year-old self in 1942. He had been cast adrift by immigrant Chinese parents who, with the onset of the war, sent him as a scholarship student to a prestigious elementary school so he would speak English and become American. Instead, he found himself an outcast.
Henry’s friendship with Japanese American Keiko Okabe, the only other Asian at the school, must remain a secret because of his father’s longstanding hatred for Japan. That Old-World enmity is heightened by American paranoia following Japan‘s bombing of Pearl Harbor. While Chinese Americans take pains to distance themselves from their Japanese counterparts, Henry sees Keiko and her family ordered to the camps.
Both Henry and the reader travel back and forth in time, witnesses to the wrenching consequences of racial and ethnic hatred as well as of commitment and hope.