April 1st, 2014

eastern muse

Book 70: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Book 70: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet .
Author: Jamie Ford, 2009.
Genre: Period Fiction. Coming of Age. War. Racial Tensions.
Other Details: Paperback. 447 pages.

1986, The Panama Hotel. The old Seattle landmark has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made a startling discovery in the basement: personal belongings stored away by Japanese families sent to interment camps during World War II. Among the fascinated crowd gathering outside the hotel stands Henry Lee, and, as the owner unfurls a distinctive parasol, he is flooded by memories of his childhood. He wonders if by some miracle, in amongst the boxes of dusty treasures, lies a link to the Okabe family, and the girl he lost his heart to so many years ago. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

This event sends Henry's thoughts back to the early 1940s when aged 12, he began to attend the exclusive Rainier Elementary as a scholarship student. Henry's father is strongly anti-Japanese due to the ongoing war between China and Japan that preceded the attack on Pearl Harbour. He makes Henry wear a button on his shirt that reads'I am Chinese'. At Ranier Elementary Henry is the only non-white student and is bullied. Then Keiko Okabe transfers in from another school. Given that she and Henry are scholarship students they are required to assist in the cafeteria during lunch and strike up a friendship. While Keiko's parents welcome Henry into their daughter's life, he has to keep the friendship secret from his family. Over time their feelings develop into young love, despite their tender ages. Then comes the news that all Japanese-Americans, even second-generation Americans such as Keiko, are to be interred in camps for the duration of the war.

The narrative moves between the 1940s and 1986. Henry is a recent widower, struggling with his grief and also seeking to repair his relationship with his adult son, which had become strained during his wife's long illness.

This was a novel that I'd describe as undoubtedly worthy but received a rather lukewarm response from me as the central love story was a bit too sentimental for my taste. Maybe if Henry and Keiko had been a little older but 12/13 years old did seem very young to fall in love so deeply. I knew very little about the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII and in that respect the novel proved informative. I did also feel that Ford did a good job with his setting capturing the Chinese and Japanese communities of Seattle as they were in the early 1940s. The Panama Hotel does exist and the discovery of the abandoned possessions did happen and this added another poignant element to the novel.

The novel was selected for my library reading group and it was well received by all present, including myself as I did feel it had many positive aspects. We were advised by the librarian that two members who were not able to make the meeting disliked it but they were not present to tell us the reason why. There was a great deal of discussion around the themes of the novel including the racial issues explored. One of the main supporting characters was an African-American saxophone player named Sheldon, who befriended Henry when he was a child and was still in his life in 1986. We had read Esi Edugyan's Half-Blood Blues in January, which also featured a number of jazz musicians and the racial prejudice they experienced during WWII, so it was easy to discuss the two novels for their comparable themes. We also discussed the thorny question of whether the U.S.A.'s internment of Japanese-Americans was justified following the outbreak of war with Japan?

Jamie Ford's website - excerpt from novel and other links on left.
yellow roses

March 2014 Reading

March 2014 reading:

7. I See Kitty, by Yasmine Surovec (36 pages)
Adorable. A young child loves and wants a kitty, and sees them everywhere, in everything, as a result.

8. Astonish Me, by Maggie Shipstead (17 pages)
Issue 189 of One Story, this appears to be an excerpt of a novel of the same name coming out later this year. Interesting historical-type fiction set during and related to the Cold War. I found myself wanting to know more about the characters, which likely means I'll be looking into reading the book.

March pages: 53

Pages to date: 957

Progress: 8/52

March 2014 comics/manga reading:

112. Gunslinger Girl: Finale, by Yu Aida (192 pages)
113. Kamisama Kiss: Volume 14, by Julietta Suzuki (200 pages)
114. The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice, by Mike Carey (160 pages)
115. Ooku: Volume 3, by Fumi Yoshinaga (232 pages)
116. Puella Magi Oriko Magica: Volume 1, by Magica Quartet (144 pages)
117. A Certain Scientific Railgun: Volume 8, by Kazumi Kamachi (256 pages)
118. Serenity Leaves on the Wind: Issue 1, by Zack Whedon (32 pages)
119. Serenity Leaves on the Wind: Issue 2, by Zack Whedon (32 pages)
120. Shout Out Loud!: Volume 2, by Satosumi Takaguchi (194 pages)
121. The Unwritten: Volume 8, by Mike Carey (176 pages)
122. The Ice Wanderer and Other Stories, by Jiro Taniguchi (240 pages)
123. Young Miss Holmes: Casebook 3-4, by Kaoru Shintani (384 pages)
124. Kekkaishi: Volume 18, by Yellow Tanabe (200 pages)
125. Kekkaishi: Volume 19, by Yellow Tanabe (192 pages)
126. D.N. Angel: Volume 2, by Yukiru Sugisaki (184 pages)
127. Sailor Moon Short Stories: Volume 2, by Naoko Takeuchi (240 pages)
128. A Little Snow Fairy Sugar: Volume 3, by Haruka Aoi (158 pages)
129. Blood+: Volume 1, by Asuka Katsura (208 pages)
130. Gate 7: Volume 2, by Clamp (192 pages)
131. Zombie-Loan: Volume 12, by Peach-Pit (172 pages)
132. Candidate for Goddess: Volume 5, by Yukiru Sugisaki (192 pages)
133. Unico, by Osamu Tezuka (410 pages)
134. K-ON! College, by Kakifly (128 pages)
135. Dengeki Daisy: Volume 3, by Kyousuke Motomi (200 pages)
136. Case Closed: Volume 28, by Gosho Aoyama (200 pages)
137. Case Closed: Volume 29, by Gosho Aoyama (200 pages)
138. Adenture Time: Volume 3, by Ryan North (112 pages)
139. Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake: Volume 1, by Natasha Allegri (160 pages)
140. Adventure Time: Volume 4, by Ryan North (128 pages)
141. Adveture Time Volume 2 Pixel Princesses, by Danielle Corsetto (160 pages)
142. Adventure Time Volume 3 Seeing Red, by Kate Leth (160 pages)
143. What a Wonderful World!: Volume 1, by Inio Asano (208 pages)
144. The Wallflower: Volume 20, by Tomoko Hayakawa (192 pages)
145. The Wallflower: Volume 21, by Tomoko Hayakawa (192 pages)
146. Legend of Chun Hyang, by Clamp (232 pages)
147. Puella Magi Kazumi Magica The Innocent Malice: Volume 1, by Magica Quartet (144 pages)
148. Harley Quinn 2013: Issues 0-4, by Amanda Conner (160 pages)
149. Fairest: Volume 2, by Lauren Beukes (160 pages)
150. Dive in the Vampire Bund: Volume 2, by Nozomu Tamaki (192 pages)
151. Fullmetal Alchemist: Volume 5, by Hiromu Arakawa (189 pages)
152. Cardcaptor Sakura Master of the Clow: Volume 1, by Clamp (184 pages)
153. Cardcaptor Sakura Master of the Clow: Volume 2, by Clamp (192 pages)
154. Cardcaptor Sakura Master of the Clow: Volume 3, by Clamp (192 pages)

March pages: 8,075

Pages to date: 30,546

Progress: 154/365