“The Best Book Club Ever” February read was, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford. Our group met for dinner last night and had a first-rate discussion of the novel. This month since it was my book choice, I was compelled to research the subject of the Japanese Internment Camps since it played a main factor in the book. I felt it was important to discuss the fear which gripped the country after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States entrance into World War II. I also brought along two books of interest, Farewell to Manzanar, by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James D. Houston. It is the true story of a Japanese American family interred at the Manzanar camp. The other book is a children’s book which I read to students, Baseball Saved Us, by Ken Mochizuki. This is a fictional account of how a young boy finds something to look forward to during his time at an internment camp. Interestingly enough I found out the author’s parents were at the Minidoka internment camp in Idaho which is the same camp that one of the main characters, Keiko Okabe, and her family were sent to live.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet contains many elements which make it an excellent choice for book clubs to talk about. We were of the same opinion that cultural diversity and prejudices and loyalties were at the heart of Ford’s book. The story is told from the past and the present. It alternates from Henry as a 56-year-old to Henry as a 12-year-old boy living in Seattle at the time of World War II. It revolves around Henry Lee, who is Chinese and his friendship with a Japanese girl, Keiko Okabe. It’s a story of young love and the lengths one will go for it.
It was informative as to the pride of the Chinese and how it played an important role in the book. Henry’s relationship with his father was a component of the novel we probably addressed throughout the evening because as the book proceeds to the present, the reader learns of Henry’s relationship with his own son, Marty.
Music, in particular, jazz, plays an integral ingredient as well. Henry becomes friends with jazz musician, Sheldon Thomas, which in turn introduces Henry as well as Keiko, to the music of Oscar Holden and the song, “The Alley Cat Strut.” The 78” record of this song we all felt was very symbolic also.
The Panama Hotel seemed to be a character in itself throughout the book. Our group felt this is where “the bitter and the sweet” converged from beginning to the end.
We all agreed our favorite quote from the book, referring to Henry’s father, was, “His father had said once that the hardest choices in life aren’t between what’s right and wrong but between what’s right and what’s best.” (p. 204) Without giving anything away, we liked it because it too many of us, it was the heart of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.
It’s my hope you will also find this story as moving as I did. Domo! (Thank you!)