Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Meet 'Noisette' our mischievous cat

This book was chosen by a local book club, although I didn’t make it to the discussion, but I like to read along anyway especially as they introduce me to books that I am often not aware of; so far it is thanks to this group that I read La Seduction – how the French play the game of life, and Abraham Verghese’s wonderful Cutting for Stone’
one of my favourite reads this year. Next month it is ‘Death at Chateau Bremont’, which is going to be a rather special read as it is set here in Aix-en-Provence. The author M.L. Longworth is from Toronto but now works between Paris and Aix, how she arrived in France is also an interesting story.

Jamie Ford’s debut novel ‘Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet’ is a wonderful story of childhood friends in Seattle, second generation immigrants caught up in the brutal reality of being perceived as untrustworthy, having the skin of an enemy. The discovery of personal effects of Japanese families in the basement of an abandoned hotel, stir up memories for Henry and lead him on a search into the not quite forgotten past.

It seems there is unavoidable suffering, whether due to ethic origin or some other thing that cast children as being different from their peers. Henry is one of those stuck in the middle, not like his parents and not like his peers; he’s an in between, a third culture kid. He wears a badge his father gave him that reads ‘I am Chinese’, what it really means is ‘I am NOT Japanese’ for it is 1942 in Seattle and anyone who looks Japanese is being sent away to a special ‘camp’.

This little badge actually existed and belonged to the author’s father; inspiring him to write this story after learning his father wore it following the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Equally, The Panama Hotel still stands today, at the heart of what was once the thriving community of Nihonmachi, Seattle’s Japantown.

Jamie Ford depicts Henry’s friendship with Keiko and the jazz player Sheldon with understanding and compassion. Whether it is facing bullies at school and in the street or the emotional demands of his well-wishing parents, Henry exhibits both courage and stubbornness, leaving the reader content that he is not to become one of life’s victims, he makes choices and will find his way.

An interesting insight into what how it is be from your own country but not look like your fellow countrymen and women. A fascinating and thought-provoking read.