Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

HotelTRI’m a fan of historical fiction, especially if it’s set during World War II, but romance novels are something I’m not a fan of. With Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford blends these two genres together and gives us a historical romance that I’m delighted to say I enjoyed so much. I lived in this novel and when there were days when I just couldn’t find the time to read, I found myself thinking of Henry and Keiko…

It is 1942. Twelve year old Henry Lee’s life is a mass of contradiction. His father wants him to grow up American, yet at home he is still expected to honor Chinese customs. He can only speak English at home, yet his parents hardly understood English, putting a strain on their communication and parent-child relationship as a whole.   His father sent him to a white elementary school on scholarship, yet makes him wear a badge that says “I am Chinese”.

At school Henry is subjected to bullying and prejudice and because he is Asian he is mistaken for being Japanese. When Keiko arrived at the elementary school, Henry was happy to not be the only non-white, but then he learns she is Japanese. Knowing his father does not like Japanese people, he is standoffish with her at first, until a beautiful friendship starts developing between the two, which is inevitable since he has to work with her during lunch times in the school kitchen. A friendship with a risk, not only because of his parents’ disapproval, but because at the time Americans declared war on the Japanese. After Henry and Keiko’s relationship starts blooming into something more than friendship, she is taken away along with many other Japanese families to internment camps. It is here where he tells her he loves her for the first time. A fact only his friend Sheldon, a jazz player he and Keiko went to watch regularly, know.

Over 40 years later, Henry has to deal with the loss of his wife Ethel and the strained relationship between him and his son, Marty. He learns that the Panama Hotel, situated in the previously called Japantown, has a new owner and that they found items belonging to Japanese families that was left there during the war times. Obviously this sparks Henry’s interest. He is hopeful that some of Keiko’s belongings are still there. He is looking for one singular item, had been for years…

I found this novel to be a heart-warming tale of romance, relationships and war. The story was beautiful and felt authentic. I mostly enjoyed the parts that played off in 1942, the historical detail about the war, but also the relationship that developed between these two young children. Not the soppiness that I tend to dislike, but a real, honest and beautiful relationship between two people. A caring friendship above all, that developed into love. I admire the young AND the old Henry. Henry, the man who cared tenderly for his wife during the time when she was ill, but especially Henry the boy who risked everything to help a family in need. Who held onto a friendship despite everyone being against it, for the girl he loves…

Have you read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?

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