This book follows the protagonist, Henry Lee both as a 13 year old in 1943, and an adult in 1986. If you have been reading my reviews for a while, you'll note that I get picky when time starts jumping around, and I'm really happy to say that this book gets this simple detail absolutely right: Every chapter title includes the year. No guesswork, no wondering, just four extra characters makes so much difference.
In 1986, Henry's wife, Ethel, is dying of cancer. Henry's son, Marty is in college and the two have trouble communicating as Ethel declines. This brings Henry to explore the parallels between himself and his own father, who died well before Marty was born.
In 1943, Henry's parents, through great sacrifice, send Henry to an all-white, private school, where he gets picked on mercilessly. His only friend is a busker named Sheldon who plays Jazz saxophone. That is, until a Japanese girl named Keiko shows up to school, too. Tragic-romance style, Henry's father absolutely hates all Japanese people, but Henry falls in love with Keiko anyway. Japanese Internment and Henry's father both get in the way.
This book has a wide cast of outstanding characters, and I will say, the night after I finished this book, I actually had a dream where I was trying to cast this book for a movie (So many great Asian actors come to mind, even while I'm awake). I liked this book so much, that I'm planning on reading and reviewing Jamie Ford's more recent novel, too.
Really, the book title is a little too on the nose. This book is both heartbreaking and hopeful. I really loved it, and I strongly recommend it. Normally, I would set aside this little space for reasons why someone might decide to skip this book, but I can't think of any. I mean, I guess if you hate reading, but then you probably wouldn't be reading my very low traffic'd blog.
This book was recommended to me by a former work colleague who I'm happily still in touch with. I love getting book recommendations, so feel free to add something to my "to read" list by sending me a note (or leaving a comment).
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Historic Fiction, Romance
Ballantine Books (an imprint of Random House)
Released: 6 October 2009
Softcover, 301 pages