ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Book Review of New York Times Bestseller: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Updated on June 30, 2018

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, author Jamie Ford, Ballantine Books, 2009
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, author Jamie Ford, Ballantine Books, 2009 | Source

Things Lost

Being a voracious reader, I usually check the Sunday Arts and Entertainment section for the New York Times Bestseller Books List in the newspaper. While I don't always agree that bestsellers are the best reading because many times books published by the smaller presses are overlooked. The books promoted by distribution companies like Baker &Taylor have the likelyhood of book reviews and Baker & Taylor is able to buy prime display space near the front and on the end caps in the larger book stores. That said, the lists are a good indication of what Americans are currently reading.

I am a historical hotel nut, so any book with the word hotel in the title will grab my attention. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by author Jamie Ford, Ballantine Books, 2009, intrigued me from the first chapter. In 1986, the main character, Henry Lee, hears that during the restoration of the historic Panama Hotel in Seattle, the belongings of Japanese families who lived in the neighborhood before they were interred during World War II have been discovered stored in the basement of the old hotel. Henry attends the press conference being held with the new owner of the hotel, and he thinks that he recognizes a Japanese parasol that the owner holds up as an example of the stored items. Henry becomes obsessed with looking through the belongings for a mysterious precious item. The mystery of what the article might be and what it means to Henry deepens when the reader learns that Henry is Chinese, not Japanese.

Henry is a man in conflict struggling with the recent death of his wife Ethel, who Henry has dutifully cared for during her long illness. His relationship with his only son is distant and has become more distant with the passing of his wife, since he feels that talking about Ethel is the only reason that his son communicates with him at all. As the novel moves between the past and the present, Henry is honest about the strained relationship he had with his own father, so he doesn't hope for anything positive to happen between himself and his son. Henry isn't sure how to fill his time since he has taken an early retirement, as he has not had the time to develop new interests while caring for his wife. The assets he once had have been depleted by Ethel's illness. Now, having seen the old parasol brings back old memories and longings for Henry's first love, a Japanese girl named Keiko.

The theme of longing for one's first love and what happened to them over time is a universal one. What takes the novel several cuts above that of a love story is the backgrounds of both Henry and Keiko, the social climate of racial prejudice in the 1940s, and the fear generated against Japanese Americans during World War Two. The author includes several "negro" characters who have suffered their share of prejudice in America too. Included in background information for the novel's setting, are the early jazz musicians and jazz clubs in Seattle. A reoccurring question is, what does it mean to be an American?

What begins as a friendship at school between Keiko and Henry, two outsiders at their school because they are Asian students and scholarship students, begins to blossom into young love. Henry tries to keep their relationship a secret from his family because his father's loyalty is to China and all things Chinese. His hatred of the Japanese isn't personal, but it is rooted in historical events long past. Keiko and her Japanese family embrace America as their new country even in the face of America's mistrust that those of Japanese ancestry might be spies.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Things Found

When Keiko's family is taken to an interment camp, Henry wants desperately to help them, but being so young, there's not much he is able to do. From this point in the novel, Henry faces many truths about himself and his family and Keiko as the events in the novel take some surprising twists. There's a sweet innocence in the writing style, but enough reality lessons and humor to keep the reader engaged in this wonderful book. Life truly is about finding the sweet among the bitter.

While I consider reading the end of the book before finishing it a scurrilous form of cheating, I confess to having to know if the Panama Hotel which served as a landmark between the actual Japanese and Chinese communities in Seattle in the 1940s was a real place. Indeed it is. The Panama Hotel was built in 1910 in the downtown Seattle area. The hotel was designed as a working class hotel by Sabro Ozasa, a graduate of the University of Washington. It's (sento) a Japanese communal bath house and tea house still exists. The Panama advertises it's facilities as a Bed and Breakfast Hotel that while lacking in some amenities, excels in charm and history.

Author Jamie Ford "struck gold" with his first novel Hotel and has had his second novel released in September of 2013, Songs From Willow Frost. In a recent interview, Ford was quoted as saying, "I'm part Chinese, part European, the chosen breed." His Chinese grandparents told him stories about the Wah Mee Club in Seattle's Chinatown where they met and eventually married. Their memories inspired him to choose the theme in Songs From Willow Frost where a 12 year old orphan is searching for his mother, who might just be a Chinese-American singer and movie star. Ford's third novel is in progress which was inspired by an incident in 1909 at the Seattle World's Fair.

History of Seattle Washington


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Greet mactavers for me; a sloppy kiss is OK.

      Your favorite Tuzigoot chapter pal.

    • mactavers profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thanks Thelma. I hope you get a chance to read this book.

    • ThelmaC profile image

      Thelma Raker Coffone 

      9 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      Very interesting book review. Thank you for sharing.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)