Wednesday, 11 February 2009

First Novel

Finished February 12
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
This is a fascinating look at the world of racial identity during the Second World War.
The main character, Henry Lee, was born in Seattle to a Chinese couple, and educated in Chinese until the Americans entered the war. At that point his father got him accepted into a scholarship program at the white school. As part of his entry he worked in the school cafeteria at lunch, dishing up food to his classmates. He also works after school, cleaning.
When he is joined by another Asian, he is at first unsure what to do, but grows to bond with the girl, Keiko Okabe, who was also born in Seattle, but to a Japanese couple. Her family is better educated than his, with her father working as a lawyer, and thus more open to the two being friends.
Henry has also formed a friendship with a black jazz musician, Sheldon. Rather than have his lunch stolen every day at school, he gives it to Sheldon on his way to school, after stopping to listen to him play on the streetcorner. Keiko also loves the music Sheldon plays, and the two try to listen to him play at a nightclub, getting them noticed by another jazz musician who writes a piece in their honor.
As the war continues, and the Japanese are harassed and then evacuated to camps, Henry struggles with his feelings for Keiko and his family's attitudes toward the Chinese as well as to their place in America.
The story moves back and forth between the war years, and Henry's life in 1986 after his wife has died. Henry's memories are awakened after the discovery in the basement of a hotel of possessions of Japanese citizens of Seattle left in storage during the war and never claimed.
The story is a touching one and shows how individuals made a difference even in difficult times.

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