“So Henry found himself stepping off the bus three stops early and wandering over to the Panama Hotel, a place between worlds when he was a child, a place between times now that he was a grown man.” Jamie Ford writes in “The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.”

Another fine discussion during the Central Library’s BrownBaggers Book Group.   February’s book was The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.  The story follows the life of Henry Lee, a second generation Chinese American, who lives in Seattle, Washington.  The predominant setting is the beginning of World War II with Henry’s love story and the Nisei experience being the primary events in this, Ford’s first, novel.  To see a synopsis of the book and a video with historical background images see BookBrowse.com.

Although a number of the group did enjoy the book, many agreed with Publishers Weekly’s review: “The wartime persecution of Japanese immigrants is presented well, but the flatness of the narrative … make for a disappointing read.”  During the discussion other books were mentioned that deal with the Nisei, and the group felt that those books were better written:  David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s Farewell to Manzanar; a true story of Japanese American experience during and after the World War II.  The latter is a young adult publication.

The book did offer up multiple provocative themes (the immigrant experience, father-son relationships, and racism) and memorable characters (a jazz sax player, the tough cafeteria manager at Henry’s school with hidden kindnesses) that moved the lively discussion on. Current immigration policies were only just mentioned, but group members did share their own or family members’ immigrant experiences.

The author admits that he loves sentimental stories with unambiguous endings; so if that is your thing then this book will work for you.  It is a gentle book and portrays a love story in a loving way.

For more books in JMRL on the Nisei search Japanese Americans as keyword in the Jefferson Madison Regional Library online catalog.

The BrownBaggers will be reading Bless me, Ultima for the March 22 meeting, and April’s book selection is Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book.

~ The Reluctant Blogger

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