Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet–Jamie Ford

Title: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Author: Jamie Ford
Publisher: Ballantine Books (October 6, 2009)
ISBN-10:  0345505344
Pages: 301 pages
Format: Audio Book
Setting: Takes place in the 1940’s and 80’s

About the Book: (from – In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.
     This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While "scholarshipping" at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship – and innocent love – that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.
     Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel’s dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice – words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.
     Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

Setting:  1940 in Seattle – Panama Hotel and Camp Harmony

images_earlyhotel 800px-Seattle_-_Panama_and_NP_Hotels
1940’s – Panama Hotel Panama Hotel – Today

Camp Harmony was the unofficial name of the Puyallup Assembly Center, a temporary facility within the system of internment camps set up for Japanese Americans during World War II. Approximately 7,390 Americans of Japanese descent in Washington state were sent to the camp before being sent to the Minidoka relocation center near Twin Falls, Idaho.



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About the Author: Jamie Ford is the New York Times bestselling author of HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, which was an IndieBound Next List selection, and a Borders Original Voices pick.

Jamie is the great grandson of Nevada mining pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated from Kaiping, China, to San Francisco in 1865, where he adopted the western name "Ford," thus confusing countless generations. An award-winning short-story writer, Ford is an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and a survivor of Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. Having grown up near Seattle’s Chinatown, he now lives in Montana (where he’s on a never-ending quest to find decent dim sum).

My Review: I  read this book for my book group: Wine, Women and Words.  Unfortunately, due to a scheduling conflict we had to cancel group, but we hope to discuss this book in June along with our next book. 

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet went along at good pace and kept my interest.  I enjoy historical fiction and like to research the events during that time in history.  I felt the portrayal of the Japanese families evacuation to the internment camps was realistic.  Ford did a good job of portraying the emotions and fear of the Japanese families.  Many things in The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet made me sad, the evacuations to the camps, Henry’s relationship with his father and the button that said “I am Chinese”.   I had an emotional reaction to the button.  How could one little button make the difference in identifying a child a friend or enemy of America. 

I loved the character of Keiko, her kind heart and spirit.  Despite that Keiko was an American born person of Japanese heritage she and her family were treat as enemies of America.  That was very hard to understand.   In my research I came to the conclusion that the treatment of the Japanese in the camps were a lot worse than described in this book.  To me the young Henry from 1942 seemed very mature. I am not sure if that was oversight by the author or if in that time and circumstances the Chinese and Japanese child had no choice but to be very mature due to the things happening in their lives.  At times, I admired Henry Lee and his dedication to Keiko and his wife, Ethel, other times I just wished he would go find Keiko already.  How could he have waited so long??  

Themes in The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.include: male relationships and their difficulty, fear, prejudice, lasting  friendship and the dedication to one’s wife. 

In honesty, I must say I enjoyed The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, but thought I would devour it in no time after all the rave reviews I had read about it.  I did not find this to be the case.   I was not satisfied with the ending of The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  I was not ready for Henry’s journey to end without more detail.  I was left wanting more. 

My Rating: 3/ 5 – Good read – I would recommend to others.  I was able to put The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet down each night to fall asleep. 

Other Bloggers Reviews:

The Book Lady’s Blog

The Literate Housewife Review

Hey Lady! Whatcha Reading??

Bookworm’s Dinner


Happy Reading!

My Rating Scale: 1 – didn’t like it; 2 – it was ok; 3 – liked it; 4 – really liked it; 5 – it was amazing






  1. Meg @ A Bookish Affair Avatar

    I still want to read this one! Hopefully I'll get to it soon!

  2. Sheila (Bookjourney) Avatar

    I really liked this one and we read it as a book club together last year.

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