Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet  by Jamie Ford is a heartwarming novel about family relationships, war, youth, and love during the 1940's in America. Ford delivers readers one of the most intriguing historical novels in recent memory. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet  tells the story of love between an American Chinese boy and Japanese girl, when such bonds were forbidden.
Ford parallels two stories in time; both told by protagonist, Henry Lee. The story alternates between the 1940's and 1986, when an aged Henry Lee comes to terms with acquaintances and regrets from his past. Ford begins the story in 1986, when Henry, now a widowed father, learns that the Panama Hotel, a staple in the Japanese part of Seattle, will reopen and many of the possessions of the Japanese American families of World War II can now be claimed. This revives his love for Keiko, his first love, and sends him on a mission to relive the story of his youth and reacquaint with his first love, Keiko.
Back to 1942, Ford shows a young Henry and his unyielding love for a beautiful Japanese girl. Henry Lee, a twelve year old Chinese American, is "scholarshipping" in an all white school in Seattle in the 1940's. On the order of his father, Henry wears a badge to school everyday that states "I am Chinese". Henry finds that life at an all white school is tough; he endures daily beatings and bullying from his peers. That is until he meets Keiko, a young Japanese American, with whom he instantly bonds with. They form a friendship and love that is torn apart by the cultural divide between the Chinese and Japanese during World War II. Forty years pass and Henry is left to consider what could have been.
Shanghai Girls  meets A Thousand Splendid Suns  in this great new novel. Ford informs readers of a part of American history that very few Americans have learned. Ford takes readers on a journey through history detailing the plight of Japanese Americans during World War II. Readers will not only enjoy the heartwarming love story, but they will also get a glimpse of the attitudes and history of this period. I highly recommend this novel to anyone searching for a great story- one that bridges cultural divides and takes us on a literary journey through history. A must read for book clubs and reading groups around the nation.
Reviewed by: Stacey Inman, Bluffton Library Reference Librarian