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Literature / Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford is a 2009 Historical Fiction novel.

In 1986, Henry Lee joins a crowd outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has discovered the belongings of Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during World War II. As the owner displays and unfurls a Japanese parasol, Henry, a Chinese American, remembers a young Japanese American girl from his childhood in the 1940s—Keiko Okabe, with whom he forged a bond of friendship and innocent love that transcended the prejudices of their Old World ancestors. After Keiko and her family were evacuated to the internment camps, she and Henry could only hope that their promise to each other would be kept. Now, forty years later, Henry explores the hotel's basement for the Okabe family's belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot even begin to measure. His search will take him on a journey to revisit the sacrifices he has made for family, for love, for country.



  • First Girl Wins: At the end, the widowed Henry rediscovers his lost childhood friend Keiko in New York, herself now a widowed parent.
  • Framing Device: Henry as an older man in 1986, looking back on his childhood in the 1940s.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage:
    • Henry is Chinese-American and Keiko is Japanese-American. Henry's parents—particularly his father—wish this wasn't a thing.
      Henry's mother: I don't know how to tell you so it makes sense. You were born here. You're American. Where your father comes from, it was nothing but war. War with Japan. They invaded northern China, killing many people. Not just soldiers but women and children, the old and the sick. Your father, he grew up this way. He saw this happen to his own family.
    • Conversely, 40 years later Henry's son Marty has a white girlfriend named Samantha. This time, Henry wishes his son well in his relationship.
      Henry: I like her. You did good.
      Marty: I'm glad you approve, Pops. You know, you surprise me.
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  • P.O.W. Camp: Keiko's family is sent to an interment camp—they're Japanese-American and this is WWII.
  • Puppy Love: Henry and Keiko are 12, and have crushes on each other and a budding, not-quite relationship. The book does a good job of avoiding the usual Most Writers Are Adults pitfalls, portraying the two in an age-appropriate way. But the story also does not undercut their feelings, or portray them as "just kids"—they are young, and this means their relationship is different than that of adults, but no less real or important.