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28 May 2015

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford - Book Review


I've literally been craving to write a book review and specifically this one for a while now. My best friend Claudia gave me this book for my birthday and I kept postponing its reading, but now I am so glad that I picked it up: it's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, the first novel by Jamie Ford but also an amazing one.

The book is set in Seattle during two different moments of the same person's life: the Second World War and 1986. Henry is a Chinese kid who is forced by his father to go to an American school so he can integrate in the country. Despite the bullying episodes he is a victim of, Henry finds in Keiko, a Japanese girl, a reason to look forward to enjoying school as a student and a helper at the school canteen. However, 1942 was a very tough time for the Japanese in the USA. as Pearl Harbor had just happened and internments of Japanese Americans became very common. Along with her family, Keiko has to move to Camp Harmony and their loving friendship becomes harder and harder. Forty years later, Henry is a widower and has a son, Marty. The past still haunts him, and along with Marty and his boyfriend Samatha, he is going to make some bittersweet discoveries at the Hotel Panama back in Seattle.

The book blends history, drama and multiculturalism - my favourite mix. It's a complete story that shows that the universal nature of feelings like love cannot be obstructed by anything, not even war. The characterization of Henry and Keiko is so deep that this message is conveyed to the reader in a direct and powerful way. Other themes are dealt with, such as racism, communication (or, rather, problems of communication) friendship and family relations. Characters such as Sheldon, the Black American sax player who always supports Henry, and Mrs Beatty, the canteen servant, are secondary but important to the action.

I enjoyed learning about history of the Second World War; I feel like it is one of those eras that, no matter how much you've studied, read, or watched, there will always be something new to learn about. I had no idea that the Japanese had such a hard time in the USA. Some of the families that got put into camps had moved to America to start a new life, and despite having an American passport they lost their jobs and houses and were forced to start serve the American army or work in desolated areas of the country. The book really highlights the unfairness of this situation and the consequences in the daily life of individuals, an effect perhaps stronger to those of the community. The reader is instinctively drawn in, wondering what would happen if she were in Henry or Keiko's place. Besides, the role of China in the War is fundamental to the story: at the time, China stood with the USA and had a nationalist government which is reflected in Henry's father's patriotism.

Onto the style of the book, I thought that Jamie Ford's way of writing is very smooth and pleasant. The book articulates regularly although the ending's pace is faster, which made me get even more into it and wish that it would have gone on with the story. Overall, I loved reading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, although I didn't read the original version but a great translation of it. I'm planning to read the second of his books so stay tuned for that!

My edition: Jamie Ford, 2009. tr. Laura Noullian. Il gusto proibito dello zenzero. Garzanti. Pages: 359 + 21 pages of extra material including an interview with the author and an extract from Ford's second novel Song of Willow. This is a hard cover edition with a medium font. It's a bit heavy to carry around. The picture on the cover is beautiful!

Goodreads: 5/5.

Watch an interesting video on the book here 

10 comments:

  1. One of my good friends from work told me how amazingly wonderful this book is. I haven't had the chance to buy a copy yet but I need to soon, especially after reading your great review. And I had no idea Ford had a second book too, I'll make sure to ask my friend the next time I see her! :)

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  2. Hi Summer! Thank you :) this book is so beautiful that a review or description wouldn't make it justice! Looking forward to hearing your thoughts about it xx

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  3. Great review!! I've been wanting to write book reviews for awhile too but it's something I always forget to do for some reason. Thanks for the inspiration! :)

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  4. Oh thank you! I'm glad to be inspiring you <3 I love writing book reviews, you should try it too! :)

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  5. As wonderful as it sounds, I think I won't be able to get to it until the winter. :/ But we definitely should have a book discussion over virtual tea once I do! ;)

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  6. Oh no worries at all! Just saying, if you do let me know :) Yess I'd love to get to know you more and talk about books! I often annoy my friends telling them about book plots and how coll they are, but I'm sure that you wouldn't get bored <3

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  7. That's the cool thing about the blogosphere! I feel like there's so many cool people and voices to reach out too. Yes, it's set, we'll have book discussions in the future (Outlander, Hotel no the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Dessen books)! ;)

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  8. Add Eleanor & Park (I think I've seen it on your TBR list), YA genre, historical fiction and fiction overall. Can't wait!! <3

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  9. Hehe, good thinking. Let's not limit ourselves! :D

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  10. […] in the last book I read (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, find out more here) where the protagonists were so interesting and well rounded that I almost felt that I knew them! I […]

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