Monday, 25 May 2015
WW2 Books: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
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.