Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
The year is 1986, and widower Henry Lee sees items from World War II discovered intact in a local hotel. The hotel has been sealed up since those times, almost like a time capsule. This event and rediscovery of forgotten things prompts flashbacks into his own life in the 1940s, when he was the only Asian child at a white school. His parents are so keen for him to assimilate and make the most of this new American life that they only allow him to speak English, despite the fact their English is nonexistent. His father forces him to wear a badge saying ‘I am Chinese’ to avoid him being mistaken for Japanese – the USA is currently at war with Japan, of course.
Henry meets, befriends and falls in love with a Japanese girl, Keiko Okabe, and is horrified when she, all her family and all the other Japanese in the local area are rounded up and deported into vast concentration camps. This event was a new one for me, as I had no idea this happened. The consequences of this, the experience of being a second generation immigrant and the importance of family relationships, are all explored throughout this touching and interesting novel.
The book has apparently been a big ‘word of mouth’ seller, and it is easy to see why. The reader becomes very embroiled in Henry’s life and experiences and really feels for him as he struggles to come to terms with his family situation, school life and his first love. This is a thoroughly enjoyable novel with strong characters and something important to say. Very much recommended.