On February 3 the R.E.A.D Book Group met to hear a wonderful book review by Diane Marsh. The featured book was Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.
This book is a favorite among the librarians at Pleasant Grove City Library.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a sweet love story set during the bitter time of World War II in
. Henry Lee is a twelve year old Chinese-American who has been sent to an all white school where his father thinks he will get a better education. He is bullied and made fun of by the other students and his “scholarship” is really a requirement to work in the lunchroom and clean after school. One day another student arrives to share this work. Keiko Okabe has also been sent by her parents to the all white school but she is Japanese-American. As they work together, walk home together and Henry protects her from the anti-Japanese cruelty of the time they form a lasting friendship. Henry hides the relationship from his parents, who would disown him if they knew he had a Japanese friend. His father insists that Henry wear an "I am Chinese" button everywhere he goes. Keiko’s family being forced to leave their home and taken to an internment camp does not end their relationship. Henry is able to visit her in the camp and even bring her a gift: a record album of the music they both love. When her family is moved to Seattle, Washington camp Minidoka in , they promise to write and wait for each other. Idaho
This part of the story brought about interesting discussion at the book group. We talked about the many Japanese internment camps that existed in the United States during this time in history.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which permitted the military to circumvent the constitutional safeguards of American citizens in the name of national defense.
The order set into motion the exclusion from certain areas, and the evacuation and mass incarceration of 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast, most of whom were U.S. Citizens or legal permanent resident aliens.
These Japanese Americans, half of whom were children, were incarcerated for up to 4 years, without due process of law or any factual basis, in bleak, remote camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. They were forced to evacuate their homes and leave their jobs; in some cases family members were separated and put into different camps. President Roosevelt himself called the 10 facilities "concentration camps."
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an old-fashioned historical novel that alternates between the early 1940s and 1984, after Henry's wife Ethel has died of cancer. In 1942 the Panama Hotel was situated somewhat between the Chinese and Japanese areas of Seattle. Forty years later, Henry discovers a parasol in the hotel's dark and dusty basement as he is looking for signs of the belongings that Keiko's family left behind when they were swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps.
Their story is told as a widowed Henry looks back on his life and wonders if what was lost and broken and be found and repaired. This is a book about family and identity, language and communication, hope and home, but most of all its about enduring love.
Jamie Ford is the great-grandson of Nevada mining pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated from Kaiping, China, to San Francisco in 1865, where he adopted the Western name “Ford,” thus confusing countless generations. Ford is an award-winning short-story writer, an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and a survivor of Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. Having grown up near Seattle’s Chinatown, he now lives in Montana with his wife and children.
On March 3, 2011 Eloise Fugal will review Driven: An Autobiography by Larry H. Miller and Douglas Robinson for the R.E.A.D. Book Group at 10:00 a.m. We hope to see you there!