Monday, February 8, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I am wary of books that people hand me to read. There’s pressure to love what they love. And despite the risk of sounding picky, there are only a few people whose judgment I trust without question. Megan is one of those people, but still when she handed me “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter of Sweet,” I was nervous. What if I didn’t love it as much as she did? At first glance, it looked like a book that I would like. It had a beautiful cover, a haunting premise (anything World War II captivates me), and well-respected reviewers. That night after my visit with the fantastic Martin clan (still Megan if you’re not following), I started the book. A few days later, despite midterms and papers, I finished the book. What a brilliant and impeccable recommendation.

Jamie Ford’s foray into the controversial world of 1940s Japanese internment is hauntingly beautiful. Ford does not use the book to lay blame on the people who interred thousands of innocent men, women, and children (though he could have). Ford simply used the book to tell a story about a boy and girl who meet, fall in love, and are separated. Ford also calls into question the power of tradition – both culturally and familial. Ford does it all against the backdrop of Seattle’s international district, jazz clubs, a neighborhood private school, and a crumbling hotel that speaks volumes about the people that once frequented its halls.

I finished the week ago and a few things have continued to play on my mind -
*One is how rarely we understand why people are they are – be they our parents, our significant others, or our best friends. There are so many details wrapped in our individual beings and it’s impossible to have someone see and understand all those details. Sometimes you just have to have “been there” – but we can ask and we can learn.
*Another thing that has stuck with me is this love story between Henry and Keiko – I love their shy appreciation of each other and then the lengths they go to make the other happy. I love their love, even if it is only a fictional love, especially because I can hear it in the sounds of children laughing and bluesy jazz and see it charcoal pencils and blank paper. We need more pure love stories like theirs.
*Lastly, I am still sick over the images of Japanese internment. I have learned about it before in school, and met friends’ grandparents who were interned since the Bay Area is one of the main areas that Japanese people were rounded up. The timing though on reading this book was uncanny because I had just been debating our current treatment of Muslims in the United States, and our predispositions to racial profiling despite our best efforts. And then there was this book – I am sad that our country was so afraid and so hateful that we destroyed the lives of so many good people. And yet these people persevered – they continued to fall in love, to work, to believe in the American dream. What I fear still though after finishing is that we are capable of repeating this mistake. I know we are, and I don’t know how to make the situation any better.

Read this book. You won’t be disappointed. It’s one of the most redemptive stories I have read in a long time. We all need more redemption and more hope in our lives.


Jamie Ford said...

Hi Jaclyn,

Thanks for the great review--much appreciated!



Megan said...

What a beautiful review of a beautiful book. I sometimes hesitate in recommending books to you...not like my feelings will be hurt, but it's hard to say, 'This book changed my life' and then have someone say something like 'I'm not really into historical fiction.' Glad I can always count on you!! And how cool that Jamie Ford commented!! I'm freaking out!

Justin said...

Jaclyn, I'm so sorry you could not come over yesterday. I will try my hardest to never be sick again! :) Great review on this book. I'm excited to read it!