Ford, Jamie. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Ballantine Books, 2009. ISBN 978-0345505330 304 pp. $26
The Japanese internment is something I had never heard of until I read Steve Kluger’s excellent epistolary novel, Last Days of Summer. Set in 1986, the recently widowed Henry Lee hears that the new owners of the old hotel that stands on the border of Chinatown and Japantown in Seattle have discovered Japanese artifacts in the basement that dating back to World War II. Some of the relics remind him of his first love, Keiko, before she was sent away: their clandestine meetings in front of the hotel before sneaking off to listen to jazz, and their agreement to meet again at the Panama when she returns from the camp.
The novel moves back and forth in time as reminiscences, and struggles to make a life after the loss of his wife, and connect with his college age son. This is a historical novel where Seattle and World War II should come alive, but don’t–the writing is very plain and the conclusion predictable. Instead of using literary devices to differentiate between the time shifts, the author simply labels each chapter to tell the reader where/when we are in the narrative. Characters are rather flat and static. Recommended for larger collections.