Monday, 25 May 2015

WW2 Books: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford



published 2009



Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet 2Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet 3Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet 4Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet


Henry walked upstream against the current of Japanese families that continued flowing toward Union Station. Almost everyone was on foot, some pushing handcarts or wheelbarrows weighed down with luggage. A few cars and trucks crept by with suitcases and bags tied to the hoods, the grilles, the roofs – any flat surface became ample cargo space as families loaded up their relatives and their belongings and drove off toward the army’s relocation center – Camp Harmony, Mr Okabe had called it. Henry looked out at the endless ribbon of people. He didn’t know where else to go. He just wanted to walk away, wherever that was.


 
observations: Many Japanese people in the USA were removed to camps during WW2 – there was a fear that they might be passing information to the enemy, that their loyalties might be tested. This book – set in Seattle with a dual timeframe of 1942 and 1986 – deals with a friendship between a Japanese girl and a Chinese boy during those difficult times.

I had a very conflicted response to the book: I used to live in Seattle, and I loved the tight detailed geography of the International District, the recognizable streets and sights and sounds, the Uwajimaya store. The content of the book – I was less keen. It seemed childishly cartoon-ish and unreal, with the lines drawn between the good people and the bad people. The 1986 section was full of bizarre anachronistic mistakes – I wonder did the author change the timing of the novel at some point? The hero, Henry, would be 56 in 1986, but is constantly referred to as an old old man. The final plot point in the 1942 section concerns a person who is bed-ridden and immobile - he has had  a stroke - managing to achieve something which would be beyond the abilities of a master-criminal. Oh well.

Many many people loved this book. I wouldn’t normally devote a post to a modern book I found as unsatisfactory as this one, but the subject matter over-rides that. However I would recommend that anyone who is interested reads David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars – similar subject matter and set nearby, but with enormous depth, and real characters and nuance. It’s a true literary novel.

And the point this time is the pictures, from a haunting collection at the US National Archives, showing Japanese families being evacuated from California.




10 comments:

  1. Moira, I love the title of this book and appreciate the images you have chosen to accompany your review. I see the irony (or hope) in this story of friendship between a Chinese and a Japanese considering that mistrust between the two countries persists till today.

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    1. Yes it's a sad and interesting story, a sideline to the war and the relations between Japan and China...

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  2. Well, what a topic. This book looks too complicated and disorganized for me.
    But I concur with Snow Falling on Cedars, a wonderful, though heartbreaking book.

    Also, George Takei of Star Trek fame and of late, a prominent gay activist, has been speaking out about his family's internment in Arkansas and elsewhere during WWII. It's a very sad story. His family lost everything and after the war, his father could only get a job washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant. He said that only Asians would hire the Japanese.

    However, he wrote an autobiography called "To the Stars: The Autobiography of George Takei," and in it he talks about his family's experiences interned.

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    1. That must be an interesting book to read - he always sounds like an interesting and nice person anyway. Yes, a sad story indeed.

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  3. Oh, sorry to hear that this one didn't do justice to the topic, Moira. The setting is of course fantastic, and the theme too. But I think I'd really, really mind those anachronisms and other jarring bits, too. Hmmm....maybe I'll give this one a miss...

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    1. I suppose anything that adds to our knowledge of history has something going for it, and I was glad to learn more....

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  4. Great images, but I'll pass on the book. Spooky timing you mentioning the Guterson book - that one I did like.

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    1. It was good, wasn't it? I think I would like to read a non-fiction book on this issue at some point....

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  5. I love the title and the topic sounds good. If I see it somewhere I may read it, not sure if I would notice the things you had problems with. Some day I have to remember to read Snow Falling on Cedars. I agree, a non-fiction book on this topic would be good.

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    1. It is a really interesting topic, and I hope I wasn't too hard on the author. I would like to read more about the subject...

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