Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet
Paperback 320 pgs
Read for book club
Amazon's Blurb -
Ford's strained debut concerns Henry Lee, a Chinese-American in Seattle who, in 1986, has just lost his wife to cancer. After Henry hears that the belongings of Japanese immigrants interned during WWII have been found in the basement of the Panama Hotel, the narrative shuttles between 1986 and the 1940s in a predictable story that chronicles the losses of old age and the bewilderment of youth. Henry recalls the difficulties of life in America during WWII, when he and his Japanese-American school friend, Keiko, wandered through wartime Seattle. Keiko and her family are later interned in a camp, and Henry, horrified by America's anti-Japanese hysteria, is further conflicted because of his Chinese father's anti-Japanese sentiment. Henry's adult life in 1986 is rather mechanically rendered, and Ford clumsily contrasts Henry's difficulty in communicating with his college-age son, Marty, with Henry's own alienation from his father, who was determined to Americanize him. The wartime persecution of Japanese immigrants is presented well, but the flatness of the narrative and Ford's reliance on numerous cultural cliches make for a disappointing read.
I can't quiet agree with the above blurb. This turned out better than I thought. Very much in the vein of Water For Elephants, with the protaganist going into the past and back to present times again.
Henry Lee is 12, almost 13 and has not had an easy childhood. Growing up during WWII, his father has makes him attend an all "white" school. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, his dad has him wear a pin saying "I'm Chinese" so he isn't mistaken for a Japanese boy. It doesn't help. He's teased, harassed, bullied and beaten up, and he keeps it all to himself. His Mom and Dad don't speak English, yet he isn't allowed to answer in Chinese, so he really doesn't speak to them other than huh huhs and no's or yes.
His only friend is Jazz sax player Sheldon, till he meets Keiko while working in the school cafeteria. The two work together and a poignantly sweet bond is formed. They go to an all black jazz bar to hear Sheldon play, and then get the crumbs scared out of them when the F.B.I raids the place, taking the Japanese patrons away. Keiko is horrified. The story takes us through the dramatic rounding up of Japanese families and their subsequent relocation in internment camps. Henry's home life doesn't get easier as his father hates the Japanese for their war with China. After finding out about the two's friendship his father disowns him.
Peppered throughout the book you find Henry's relationship with his college age son Martin is strained and he mourns the passing of his wife Ethel whom he lovingly cared for as cancer ravished her body.
Somewhat sad when you think of the could have beens, I give it 3 cannolis