Thursday, March 26, 2009

My Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

The title of this book first attracted my attention. Jamie Ford is a Chinese-American and this is his debut novel. He has written a story about the bittersweet memories of a Chinese-American man named Henry. It's a story that deals with the father-son relationship, Japanese internment, forbidden love, and the bonds of friendship.

Perseverance in adversity is a theme that runs throughout the story.

The setting is Seattle in 1986 but Henry flashes back to 1942 when he was 12 years old and also to 1945 when he was 15. The hotel referred to in the title is really called the Panama Hotel and it was owned by a Japanese man in the 1940s. In 1986 the new owner discovered personal items that once belonged to the Japanese residents in the area and had been hidden in the basement since the war years. The discovery brought back bittersweet memories for Henry.

Father-son relationship

Henry and his father had a language barrier and a cultural barrier. The language barrier was forced on Henry when his father forbade him from speaking Cantonese at home. At the same time, the parents spoke and understood very little English. The cultural barrier existed because the father was fixed in his traditional nationalistic way of thinking and behaving while Henry was American by birth.

Unfortunately, Henry repeated the pattern in his own life by re-creating the communication gap between himself and his own son. Henry’s wife acted as go-between for Henry and his son thus replicating the role that Henry’s mother played in his own childhood.

Forbidden love

We learn from the first page of the book that Henry was a devoted and loving husband. However, we also discover that Henry had a first love, a Japanese-American classmate named Keiko. This friendship which blossoms into youthful love is initially kept a secret because Henry's father hates the Japanese who are enemies of China and of America.

Japanese Internment

I think the writer painted a detailed picture of what life was like when Japanese-Americans were evacuated from their homes and forced into camps and also what life was like for Henry an Asian-American at home and at school during this period. Henry's father forced him to wear a button that said, I am Chinese, so that he would not be mistaken for Japanese by those who couldn't tell the difference.

Bonds of Friendship

Henry was a loyal friend to Keiko and her family but the friendship that really stands out in this story is the one between Henry and an African-American sax player, Sheldon. This is a friendship that lasted despite the differences in age and race. It was reinforced by their love of jazz.

Final Comments

I thought this historical fiction was told in a very loving and respectful manner. I would give it 4 ½ stars out of 5.

You can not help but be moved emotionally by the treatment of Japanese-Americans in the story, the bullying of Henry at school, and the bonds of friendship in the story.

I liked the writer's use of symbolism. I especially liked the symbolism of the ume tree on pages 82 -85. Ume is a Chinese tree that symbolized perseverance in adversity and this particular one mentioned in the book was grafted from a tree in a Japanese garden. A broken jazz record was also cleverly used as symbolic of the broken relationship of Henry and Keiko.

I liked the touch of humor when Henry deliberately mistranslates a conversation between his father and a Caucasian businessman.

The only thing I did not understand was why Henry's father wanted him to speak only English at home when his intention was to eventually send Henry to China for three to four years.

If you like multi-cultural stories you will enjoy this book. Find out more about this book on the author’s website The photos of the era that inspired this story are on the site: Japanese at Camp Harmony, the Panama Hotel, the No Japanese signs. Check it out.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Oke Book Club Selection

Our book for April is March. That's right. March by Geraldine Brooks. Remember Louisa May Alcott's Little Women? Well this is about Mr. March the absent father and husband in the original Alcott story. According to a Library Journal review on amazon, Mr. March was loosely based on Alcott's real father. The setting for the story is the Civil War era.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Jamie Ford's debut novel

This is what I am reading and so far it's holding my interest: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. The writer is Jamie Ford, a Chinese-American and it is about a Chinese -American family in Seattle in 1986. The main character, Henry, flashes back to the World War 11 era, 1942 and 1945 to be specific, and on his first crush, a 12 year old Japanese-American classmate.

What are you reading?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Free Book on Wealth Management

Download another free book from! You just have to join the Oprah Club. This time it's Jean Chatzky's book The Difference. Hopefully there are money saving tips that will make a difference in our lives at this time. And if you're a fan of the Oprah magazine, watch out for the upcoming issue where she shares the cover with our trendsetting and smart First Lady, Michelle Obama. There is an extra special discount to the O magazine ... $18.00 for 12 issues.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen

See the book trailer for Keepsake, our bookclub selection for this month ... really scary.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Eat and Meet the Author - Andy Harp Part 11

The Eat Pizza and Meet the Author Event was very successful. There was a good turnout of students and community members. Colonel Harp gave us some scary information about North Korea. All I can say is start paying attention to the news about North Korea.
Colonel Harp is writing a second novel about Al-Qaeda and is already thinking about a third novel on the Mexican drug war on our border.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Eat Pizza and Meet the Author - Andy Harp

Colonel Andy Harp (Ret.) of the United States Marine Corps Reserve and writer of A Northern Thunder, will be the special guest author at Waycross College tomorrow at 12:15PM. The protagonist in this military thriller and spy novel is a small-town Georgia lawyer and Marine veteran who has been recruited for a dangerous North Korean mission.

Colonel Harp, a lawyer and resident of Columbus, Georgia will be the second guest author at the college. Gwen Roland, writer of Atchafalaya Houseboat:my years in the Louisiana Swamp, participated in the first Meet the Author event.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Books and Foods

I just saw an article in Relish dated March 2009 by Monica Bhide that suggests that we go to the site There is a link on that site that pairs books with foods. Take a look and you will see that the book, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, by Janelle Brown, for example is paired up with the recipe for Janice's Chocolate-Lavender Pots de Creme. Janice is the name of the desperate housewife character in the book.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Jodie Picoult's Book to Movie

Oh no! They are making a movie of Jodie Picoult's book, My Sister'sKeeper, and they are changing the ending. The surprise ending is what made the book so fascinating for me and apparently for some of Picoult's fans. There is now a Facebook group devoted to restoring the oringal ending of the story to the movie version. The group is called, of course, Save my Sister's Keeper.

Cameron Diaz is one of the stars in the movie.