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Publisher's Summary

In the opening pages of Jamie Ford's stunning debut, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.

This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry's world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While scholarshipping at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship and innocent love that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel's dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family's belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice, words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.

©2009 Jamie Ford (P)2009 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"A tender and satisfying work set in a time and a place lost forever, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet gives us a glimpse of the damage that is caused by war - not the sweeping damage of the battlefield, but the cold, cruel damage to the hearts and humanity of individual people. Especially relevant in today's world, this is a beautifully written book that will make you think. And, more importantly, it will make you feel." (Garth Stein, New York Times best-selling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain)"Jamie Ford's first title explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans in the Seattle area during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love. An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut." (Lisa See, best-selling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan)

What members say

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  • Overall

Hotel on the corner of bitter and sweet

superb writing! this story kept me listening far beyond my daily normal fill of audio books.
I felt the story was a little slow to start but after the story is established you WILL be hooked!
Excellent narration and fine details to the era of potrayal.

21 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Wow! What a book! What a narrator!!

This was one of the best books I've heard since The History of Love. The narration was spot on (except for perhaps when speaking a couple of the Japanese phrases, but this may have been intentional). Feodor Chin's ability to vary his voice across the years and for each of the characters, not only in tone and accent, but in the more subtle matters of "how" something would be said, made listening to this book a rare pleasure. Jamie Ford's writing is crisp, engaging, and insightful. It allows the listener/reader into a world seldom seen by outsiders, and events of our nation's history that are still rarely spoken about. The diverse cast of characters is three-dimensional and believable, and Ford skillfully avoids stereotypical portrayals and easy solutions to diffucult issues. The book is already on order to join my hardback collection, but I will keep the audiofiles with the very short lists of books worth another listen.

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Engaging and Lovely. Highly recommend.

A poignant, endearing, complex, imaginative, and well-executed plot with wonderful fully-developed characters. Flash backs from adult lives are interleaved seamlessly and cleverly as two 12/13 year olds come of age under very difficult circumstances. Some characters are seriously flawed in realistic ways. One set of flawed parents is complemented by another set of parents cut out of whole cloth. Adult friends of the children add a special dimension in unexpected ways. Some of the objects and events loom large and carry their heartbreaking meaning from the west coast internment of Japanese-American US citizens. I would be surprised if you don't simultaneously laugh and get misty-eyed from the last few words spoken at the end of the book. Audio is very well narrated. It is as good a young adult/parent/any-adult book as is the excellent The BookThief.

36 of 40 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Truly Bitter and Sweet

I have never written a review before but felt compelled to write on this book. This was the most beautifully touching book I have ever listen to. Wonderful story and great narrator.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Sherry
  • Redlands, CA, United States
  • 05-25-09

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

This book is well worth your time. I enjoyed every minute I spent listening to this book. I left feeling like I had gained a new insight into the Japanese internment during World War II and an appreciation of how far our society has come. The narration was equally enjoyable! Great listen!

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • C.
  • Santa Fe, NM, United States
  • 07-16-11

Captivating, Beautiful, Poignant

Wonderfully written by Jamie Ford and perfectly narrated by Feodor Chin, this was one of the best listens I've ever experienced. Mr. Chen's voice kept me interested and his voices were perfect. While the book's main characters were personally affected by the shameful and cruel treatment of the American Japanese during the World War II years, the book did not come across as accusatory, but more of a factual telling of how things were during those times.

There was a permanent "Relocation Center" near my home town and even though many young men from our area fought in WWII, the American Japanese earned the respect of the native residents for their quiet dignity as they endured their confinement. This book helped me to see things more clearly through the eyes of the American Japanese people.

I definitely recommend this book and will listen to it again.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Ella
  • toronto,, Ontario, Canada
  • 09-01-09

How often do you read a feel good book about WWII?

This is a book about racism. It toggles between two periods of time. Part of the book is in the 1940's, WWII, where Henry, a twelve year old Chinese Boy and Keiko a Japanese American girl meet in the school kitchen of a white American public school. The other part of the book is in 1986, when Henry is an adult with his own adult child, Marty, who has finished university and is engaged to be married. When I think of WWII, I think of Germany and their invasion into the European countries and their murder of Jews and other European groups totaling well over 11 million people. I never think of America, Japan and China. This book has changed that. However this book is not about war, it is about love, about hope, about overcoming hate and expected standards for the times. This book is about the pure friendship of two innocent children who have the misfortune of meeting each other in very tumultuous times. It's about how Henry overcomes the hate his parents feel for the Japanese and how Keiko overcomes the loss of her home and transfer of her family to interment camps. It is a war story, well told with factual information, but cloaked in the protection and innocence of the love of two children. Not a page-turner by any means, but a story that will leave you thinking long after it's over.
The narrator Feodor Chin was excellent as well. Easy to listen too, proper accents etc.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Throughly Enjoyable

Well written, a good story. The characters are well developed and engaging. The plot thought out and with a good pace, not to slow but plenty of details.

I was able to play with my children in the car, no junk to keep away from them. It's was one of the few listens that they actually turned off their iPods and listened to the story and even sat in the car when we got home and said dont turn it off yet.

The narrator did a fine job, easy to understand even with accents and easy on the ears.

Give it a try. You wont be disappointed.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Patti
  • Chittenango, NY, United States
  • 05-01-10

Great Historical Fiction

I did not know much about this side of WWII history and I found it fascinating. My lack of knowledge did not impede my understanding or appreciation of this story. I know even less about jazz music and that was okay too, as that theme just connected the chracters in the story.

This book was read just after "The Help" and there were similarities between the two books that I had not known about ahead of time. As much as I tire of being the big, bad white majority at times, these stories did provide a side of history that we can learn from. With hindsight, I was ashamed by the prejudices tht were accepted at that time of life and I wish not to repeat them.

The narration was very well done. Switching between the ethnicity of the characters added much to the story.

This story not only brought together a variety of races of people, but also generations. Henry could not make right the broken relationship with his own father, but he made right the damaged relationship with his own son. And with the risk of spoiling the end, the son did wonderful by his father.

This was one of those enjoyable books I really did not want to see end. Get it and sit back for a great lesson in not oly history but also humanity.

10 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Sweet and Bitter

Enjoyed listening to the story. Not quite as good as Snow Falling on Cedars, but still compelling.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful