My friend Rita sent me Hotel on the Corner of Bitter And Sweet after I gushed about a book she'd recommended to me months ago (The Girl in the Blue Coat, which I talk about here). I remember when it came out, because it was very popular at the public library I worked at, and one that I actually handed off to patrons on occasion, although I'd never read it myself. I'm so glad Rita sent it though, and put it back on my radar, because it's a beautiful, quiet book about a difficult and complicated time in history.
Henry Lee is a first generation Chinese-American. In 1986, he is recently widowed, the father of a son who is about to graduate college and with whom he wishes he had a closer relationship. One day, he's walking home through Seattle's International District, and witnesses a discovery made by new owners renovating the old Panama Hotel: a basement full of belongings stored and subsequently abandoned by Japanese-American's interned during World War II. The Panama Hotel, standing between what was once Seattle's Japantown and Chinatown, now a possible resting place for some of Henry's most closely held, bittersweet memories.
The story is told half in 1986, and half in the 1940s, and the height of World War II. It tells the story of a boy who is both too Chinese and not Chinese enough and whose father diligently follows the war between China and Japan. Of a second-generation Japanese girl whose family is proudly American, but viewed with suspicion and hate. It's the story of unlikely friendships, divided loyalties, fathers and sons, and jazz. It's a story of the fear of a people at war, of miscommunication, love, and commitment. Although I knew that Japanese-Americans were sent to internment caps during World War II, this story makes those facts more personal, tangible, and consequently heartbreaking; yet it's also a story of hope.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a fantastic read for anyone who likes historical fiction, family stories, or coming of age books.
p.s. full disclosure of trying something new: if you order anything through one of the Amazon links, I'll get a tiny kickback through their affiliate program.