As Henry Lee walks past the Panama Hotel, a landmark that has been boarded up for decades, he is pulled into the excitement of the crowd that has gathered to see what has been found locked away in the basement all these years. It turns out that the belongings of many Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during World War II were stored in the basement and never reclaimed after the war. This discovery takes Henry back to his childhood in the 1940s, and his loving friendship with Keiko, a Japanese girl who was lost to him during the war.
In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford has developed a wonderful story of friendship, family, history, and the struggle between two generations with different beliefs. He easily transitions from the 1940s, when Henry befriends Keiko, the only other Asian at his all-white private school, to the 1980s, when a grown Henry finds himself searching for a lost treasure among the bags at the hotel. We slowly learn more about Henry's past that was dominated by a father who was obsessed with the war in China, as he deals with his wife's recent death and his relationship with his own grown son.
While I have read quite a few books that take place during World War II, I have never read one that focused on the Japanese-Americans during that time. I think Ford does an excellent job of presenting their situation ~ the loss of property, business and social standing, as well as the conditions inside the camps. I personally learned a great deal about this time in American history.
The relationship between Henry and Keiko was a bit strong for the age they were meant to be during the story. I think it would have worked better for me if they were closer to 15 or 16 years old. And there were a few details in the modern storyline that were inaccurate (like the fact that his son was supposedly using online support groups in the 1980s). But overall, this was a very enjoyable work of historical fiction that really touched me. Yes, I even cried at the end ~ and books don't generally make me cry.
My Rating: 4/5
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This review was written based on an ebook copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet that I purchased.