Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

In this book, the protagonist is Henry, a Chinese-American man who investigates an old flame after the death of this wife. With the help of his son, Henry searches for an old jazz record in a basement full of items discarded by Japanese families on the way to the camps. There are many flashbacks to his youth, when he had a relationship with a Japanese-American girl during the years of WWII. When she is sent away to an internment camp, they try to continue their relationship, but are eventually parted by the forces of racism and family opposition. The novel holds out the hope of a sweet reunion and a second chance at love.

I’d compare the book to those of Nicolas Sparks, because of the sweeping star-crossed romance and the almost overpowering sentiment. For example, the device of a prejudiced parent preventing communication is used in both this book and The Notebook. However, I think the quality of this book is a step higher than those of the often-adapted Sparks, because of its engagement in historical events and its sentence quality. Perhaps because of his severely restrained personality, Henry often turned aside from both the angst and the joy that a Sparks character would have wallowed in. The result is a book free of all whining with an ending that leaves everything to the imagination. My only complaint is the maudlin title, which seems calculated to appeal precisely to Sparks fans.