Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Title:  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Author:  Jamie Ford

Hardbound:  290 pages

Date Published:  January 27, 2009

Publisher:  Ballantine Books (div of Random House)

ISBN:  9780345505330

At the next mess hall, lunch had finished.  Mrs. Beatty had him wash and wipe down trays while she coordinated with the kitchen manager on needed supplies and menu planning.  “Just hang out if you get done early,” she said.  “Don’t go wandering off unless you want to stay here for the rest of the war,”  Henry suspected that she wasn’t joking and nodded politely, finishing his work.

By all accounts, the mess hall was off-limits to the Japanese when it wasn’t mealtime.  Most were restricted to their chicken shacks, although he did see people occasionally slogging through the mud to and from the latrine.

When he was done, Henry sat on the back step and watched smoke billowing from the stovepipes fitted into the roofs of the makeshift homes – the collective smoky mist filled the wet, gray sky above the camp.  The smell of burning wood lingered in the air.

She’s here.  Somewhere.  Among how many people?  A thousand?  Five thousand?  Henry didn’t know.  He wanted to shout her name, or run door to door, but the guards in the towers didn’t look like they took their jobs lightly.  They stood watch for the protection of the internees – so he’d been told.  But if that were so, why were their guns pointed inside the camp?

It didn’t matter.  Henry felt better knowing he’d made it this far.  There were still a chance he’d find her.  Among the sad, shocked faces, maybe he’d find her smile again.  But it was getting dark.  Maybe it was too late.

-Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, page 157

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford is a heart-touching tale of Henry Lee; the son of a prominent, traditional Chinese community leader who’s left his heart in the homeland; called “white devil” by his peers as he goes off to an all-white school on “scholarship” (translation – he does all the janitor work for the privilege of attending the school) where he’s bullied, heckled and harrassed on a constant basis as the only Asian student, that is, until Keiko, a Japanese-American girl, begins to “scholarship” with him; he is also father of Marty, with whom he struggles to communicate or even have much of a relationship after the death of Henry’s wife, Ethel, Marty’s mother.  As the story moves back and forth in time between 1986 to 1942, the reader is able to watch the unfolding of the young, innocent love Henry discovers he has for Keiko, a love that is forbidden, and could even get him disowned, by his traditionalist father, who sees Keiko as just a relative of those people invading and destroying his home.

Their love is undeterred by the war, even when all people of Japanese decent are rounded up and sent away to live in relocation centers (concentration camps) for the remainder of the war.  Henry promises he’ll wait for her, even until she’s an old woman… he promises to bring her  a cane if it takes that long.  However, being children, things are not always so easy or so lasting as young Henry finds out.

The discover of personal belongings left behind by residents of Nihonmachi (Japantown) in the basement of the Panama Hotel offers Henry the opportunity to open up and share with his son, and to heal the rift that had started between Henry and his own father, who made him the man and father he became, despite his desire to be different.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a quiet book, but deeply moving.  It explores racial issues of the 1940s, both those between Caucasians and Asians and blacks, but also between Chinese-Americans and Japanese-Americans, and between Issei (first generation Japanese immigrants) and Nissei (second generation Japanese-Americans).  The book addresses how traditional culture has had to give way to contemporary culture.  It also touches on the culture of jazz, and offers music as a unifying agent… something that all cultures can share and appreciate.

One of the things that I enjoyed about Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is that it inspires the reader to exploring history further, beyond the covers of the book.  It offers a vignette of American history and life, but it doesn’t preach or teach.  Ford could have very easily turned Hotel into a soap box and spoken out  against the unconstitutional suspension of the civil rights of American citizens by removing them from their homes, robbing them of their property and detaining them without just cause simply because of their genetic heritage.  This would have been a valid argument to have made, but Ford leaves the moral interpretation to the reader.  He could have turned it into a history lesson, but, instead, provides enough information for the reader to do his or her own homework.  Which I did.

And, I apparently found the same documentaries as Ford.  I recommend the following for better understanding of this book:

  • Time of Fear- a PBS documentary about the experiences of both the Japanese-Americans sent to relocation camps in Arkansas and their Caucasian and Black Arkansan neighbors.
  • Unfinished Business – The Japanese-American Internment Cases – while the civil rights movement didn’t really get going until the 60s, not every Japanese-American went along with the government’s unlawful treatment of it’s own citizens.  This documentary shows some of those attempts of civil disobedience.
  • Nanking- Performed by stars such as Woody Harrelson, Mariel Hemmingway, Jürgen Prochnow, Stephen Dorff, and Rosalind Chao, among others, this documentary dramatically tells the story of the Japanese Army’s invasion and occupation of Nanking, China.

All three of the videos will help you get a better understanding of the background of the book, but especially Nanking.  It will make all the difference in understanding where Henry’s dad is coming from and help you not to see him as a mean, bigoted, old man.

Well researched, but never feeling “studied,” Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford will allow you to step into the life and culture of another, and to see the world from a different angle, while still provide you with the entrancing escape for which most of us disappear between the covers of a book.  I give Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet 4 egg rolls and a fortune cookie(which, I guess, is 4 1/2 stars out of 5… lol)

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The following video is Jamie Ford talking about Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and what sparked his desire to tell the story.

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Don’t forget, I’m giving away my copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet! Leaving a comment here on the review post is your official entry, but check out The Giveaway Announcement for details on how to get bonus entries and when the contest ends!

The Sunday Salon

The Sunday Salon.com

Let’s see, this week I’ve been friends with a snowman and a rabbit. I’ve b,een to Papau New Guinea, Boston, Czechoslavakia, and the Congo. I’ve lived in Kabul and Pakistan in a time women had no rights. I’ve been enraptured by the stories of a second-grader in Watertower and China. I’ve been out to the county fair, where we ate swamp fries, roas’nears and elephant ears, and drank lemon shake-ups to our hearts content. AND, yesterday morning, I took Maggie for breakfast at her favorite place, The White House.

Okay, the first four sentences were things I did in books, I read and reviewed The Rabbit and the Snowman, The White Mary, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and Gooney Bird Greene.

But we did go to the county fair and we really did eat breakfast at the White House. Of course, when the county fair is open, you have to go more than one day. You have to see the animals and the merchants one night, and do the midway on another night.

So Monday was roosters, rabbits and merchants night, which is my favorite. I love going through the merchants buildings and signing up for every single drawing every business, church or club offers. In the past I’ve one a DirectTV satellite package, Avon baskets, shirts, and other stuff I can’t remember. This year, though, so many were offering gas cards. That kinda sucks, since I don’t drive… but I signed up for them anyway.

On Wednesday, we went for bracelet night at the midway. I even got a bracelet, which is stupid because I have vertigo. Maggie and I rode an up and down kind of ride. It didn’t spin, so I thought I’d be safe… wrong. But I know to focus on one spot to keep from getting sick… Maggie, poor Maggie, did not. She quickly exited the side of the ride and lost her lunch. She was pretty much ready to go home after that. I have a question for any med-savvy people, Maggie has eczema that flared this week, so she’d taken Benadryl, can that make you more prone to motion sickness? I told her that’s why she got sick.

Oh well, we went to look at the horses after that. We scratched several piggie’s backs and made our way back to the midway for our last ride. By then Mag’s stomach was settled, and our tradition is to save the Ferris wheel for our final fair event. The thing creaked and groaned and scared poor Maggie, who thought with certainty we were going to plummet to our deaths. I told her it just needed some WD-40 and we were safe, though I secretly agreed with her and I never get frightened on rides!

We lived.

Breakfast at the White House… I’m sure you’ve been dying to know. Here in Logansport, there is a restaurant called “White House”. It is owned by Lester, who has been cooking at the White House since my momma was a little girl, and that’s saying something! Mags and me, we always order the same thing, eggs over easy, toast with extra butter, smoked sausage and bacon, home fries with onions, chocolate mile for Mags and coffee for me. We always have the same waitress, Karen, so we never actually have to tell her what we want, unless we are adding a pancake with peanut butter like we did yesterday. Mag’s loves Karen, who’s watched her grow since we had our first breakfast there when Maggie was three. Like most places Maggie goes, she gets away with a lot at the White House… she brings flowers and a smile, and all the orneriness she can muster!

Also this week, I found FRED, where Julie shared the Fart in the Duck, Fyrefly asked Where the Hell is Matt and Suey shared her addiction to Vlogbrothers.

My First Ever Giveaway!! is winding down… only 11 days until it closes! Right now, I have 584 entries, and am giving away a $20, a $10, and a $5 Borders gift card. 16 more entries will add another $10 gift card, and at 700 I was going to add another $5, but I’ve been thinking… that’s such a great number, that it might be more. So… if you haven’t entered to win yet, do it now!
Enter to WIN!!

Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry

Title: Gooney Bird Greene
Author: Lois Lowry
Pages: 88
Publisher: Yearling (Random House Children’s Books)
Publish Date: 2002
ISBN: 0440419603

Gooney Bird Greene -that’s Greene with a silent ‘e’ at the end- arrived at Watertower Elementary and in Mrs. Pidgeon’s second grade class in October… the class would never be the same. She shows up wearing pajamas and cowboy boots, her red hair in pigtails, a lunch box and dictionary in her hands. She asks for a desk in the middle of the room because she likes to be in the middle of all the action. As the class begins studying how to write a story, the whole class decides they want to hear Gooney Bird’s story.

Gooney Bird adjusted the pink ballet tutu she was wearing over a pair of green stretch pants. Her T-shirt was decorated with polka dots. Her red hair was pulled into two pigtails and held there with blue scrunchies… She felt her earlobes, which were small and pink and empty.

“I should have worn the dangling diamond earrings that I got from the prince,” she told the class. “Maybe I’ll wear them next week.”

“Diamond earrings? Prince?” Mrs. Pidgeon asked.

“Well, actually, the prince didn’t give me the earrings. I got them at the palace,” Gooney Bird explained.

“Why were you at the palace?”

“Well, first I was in jail, and then -” Gooney Bird interrupted herself. “It’s a long story.”

Gooney Bird entrances the whole class, including their teacher, with her stories about how she came from China on a flying carpet, or how her beloved cat, Catman, was consumed by a cow, or why she was late to school because she was directing an orchestra. With every story, Gooney Bird reminds her audience that she only tells absolutely true stories.  And she does.

What brought me to Gooney Bird Greene is the fact Maggie and I have read the entire Junie B. series, and we’ve been looking for a replacement series. Gooney Bird does work great for that, and she’s quite creative, as well. Both characters are funny, extroverts who are often the center of attention. Both characters are rather unique individuals, and express themselves very well. The differences, though, are that Parks has developed Junie B’s character a lot more, as she has written over 30 Junie B books to Lowry’s three Gooney Bird books.

Maggie’s review is: Gooney Bird Greene is a good, funny and cute book. Her favorite things about it is Gooney Bird is funny and she likes it when Gooney Bird bosses the teacher around. The thing she didn’t like about it is when Gooney Bird lost her cat… that was sad… but it was funny that Catman’s tail got cut off by the lawn mower.

Back to me, now… to clarify the “bossing the teacher”, Gooney Bird isn’t mean and hateful with it, she says things like “look up China on the map”, or when the class erupts in questions saying, “Mrs. Pidgeon, do you want to deal with this?”. Even Mrs. Pidgeon gets so caught up in the stories that she interrupts, then apologizes. It’s this kind of polite role-reversal that is often what makes a favorite children’s book. Not only is there the “bossing” the teacher, but also directing the adults of the orchestra, and helping a neighbor find his dog. Gooney Bird takes the role of rescuer for the grown-ups.

Honestly, I can’t really find any negatives about this book, other than there are only three books, which means it’s not long before we’re hunting a new series very soon. We’ve read a couple Lucy Rose books, but she’s just not quite the same. We’ve just started Amber Brown Goes Fourth, and it’s promising, but I don’t know how many there are. I’ve also got an Anastasia Krupnik book, and a couple Molly Moons. SO, if you have any suggestions for Maggie’s dilemma, let us know!

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