Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

This book was recommended to me by my sister-in-law who said that it was about the Japanese American internment during World War II. She followed up her recommendation by adding that it was not a depressing book. She was right. (Thanks, Susan!) Although the book addresses war, prejudice, friendship, bullying, parent/child relationships and love, it really is more sweet than bitter and simply makes you think.

The book is about a man/boy named Henry Lee. The plot goes back and forth between Henry's life in 1986 and Henry's life during the period of 1942 until 1945. Henry is Chinese. He and his parents lived in Seattle's Chinatown where Henry's own son has grown up. In the 1940's, Henry had the opportunity to study at a private “white” school where he met and became close friends with a Japanese girl, Keiko Okabe. After Henry's wife, Ethel, dies of a long illness, Henry discovers that the Japanese hotel which has been closed since the early 1950s is being reopened and remodeled. A huge discovery is made in the basement: suitcases and boxes of personal items left behind when the Japanese in that area of town were forced to live in internment camps. Henry spots something he knows was Keiko's. And he then begins the hunt for a new lease on life.

I won't go too much into the rest of the plot although I must say that you will fall in love with both Henry and Keiko and their attempt to deal with and live with all the social, societal and cultural ups and downs that they are faced with. You will cheer for Henry's increasing closeness and understanding with his own son while dreading what awful word or action would come from Henry's own father.

In addition, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet reminded me of one of many times in our own American history of which we should not be proud. Perhaps more reading on the subject would be appropriate.

What did this book have to do with my faith? This book made me realize again how quickly we all succumb to what society says is the best thing to do – even if it is full of injustice. We often see our culture in terms of being a Christian culture when it is not. Sometimes all it takes is the lack of judgmentalism in children to make us see beyond race, color, and culture. In many cases the finest Christians are children. Many of us adults do the best we can in helping them to grow out of their natural Christ-like behavior. In addition, the only significant Christians mentioned in the story were the Quakers who chose to live near the camps and work in order to minister to the Japanese incarcerated there. I wondered where the other denominations were and why they didn't seem to be speaking up or helping Japanese Americans out. 

I would love to hear your impressions.

I highly recommend this book!

Happy reading!


Copyright 2011 Amelia G. Sims

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