Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Here is the gist of this book...Henry is walking by the Panama Hotel in the old Japantown area located in Seattle. The hotel has been vacant for over 40 years, but recently it has been purchased by a woman that wants to restore it to it's former glory. When the construction workers break ground on the project, they find boxes and boxes of Japanese families' belongings in the basement. As Henry is walking by, different news channels and media are covering this find. The owner pops open a beautiful Japanese parasol...a Japanese parasol that Henry recognizes from long, long ago...
Throughout this book Henry flashes back and forth from his life as a twelve-year-old boy in Seattle's Chinatown to present day (for him-1980s). As a young boy, Henry was raised by very old-fashioned Chinese parents that want him to recognize himself as Chinese, but also as an American. At all times, Henry's father has him wear a button that says, "I Am Chinese." This is because the setting of this novel is during WWII...and many Americans cannot tell the different between Chinese and Japanese Americans. Honestly, I have to say that I'm one of them...even today. And saying that makes me feel a little guilty.
Regardless, while Henry's parents are old-fashioned, they also want him to get a good American education. Henry's father signs him up for a "scholarship" at an all-white, prestigious, private school...this "scholarship" simply has Henry serve food in the cafeteria and clean up after school each day in return for not paying dues. Some scholarship, huh? This situation makes it very difficult socially for Henry. The white children to do not accept him and call him a "Chink" while his fellow Chinese American children back in Chinatown won't accept him because he's "too good" for their Chinese school. Henry is very lonely...until one day when another student begins scholarshipping with him in the cafeteria and after school. At first Henry has high hopes...until he notices that this is a Japanese girl. His parents would be furious if he were to consort with this girl, Keiko. If you know anything about world history, you might know that the Chinese and Japanese despised each other long before WWII came about...and Ford gives a little background regarding these reasons via Henry's father's character.
In Henry's present day setting, you learn how he has recently lost his wife through a battle of cancer and his relationship with their son has definite communication problems. Gradually, throughout the novel, Henry and his son's relationship grows and develops as Henry shares more and more information related to his flashbacks as a young Chinese American boy during WWII.
This story gives a bittersweet view of what it was like to be Asian American during WWII...there were so many times that my breath caught in my throat while reading this book. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet also displays the power of our interpersonal relationships...whether they be between parents, friends or other loved ones. I cannot tell you how much I loved this book. It has an awesome message alongside endearing characters. Read it!