Sunday, January 16, 2011

Book Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet

I wanted to like Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  I really did.  I recently finished reading Laura Hillenbrand's unbelievable, but true account of Japanese POW survivor Louis Zamperini:  Unbroken. That book really gave me a whole new perspective on the U.S. "evacuations" of the Japanese in WWII to places like Manzanar, CA.  I had heard first hand accounts from survivors of Manzanar and had never understood how the U.S. (in the throes of fighting Germany and its horrific concentration camps) could ever possibly do such a thing to its own citizens.  Reading Unbroken certainly didn't convince me it was the right thing to do, but it did give me a clearer picture of the fear and rage people felt towards the Japanese at that time.

This book promised a look into the other side of the story.  The book details a young Chinese-American boy from Seattle who befriends and loves a young Japanese-American girl who is then shuttled off with her family and the other residents of Seattle's Japan Town to an internment camp.  The book focuses on the prejudice that surrounds the boy from all sides -- his father and his white schoolmates hate the Japanese and his schoolmates hate him for being an Asian of any stripe.  The other Chinese-American kids on his block tease him for going to an all white school and his best friend, a black jazz musician, is also subject to racism.

I liked the voice of the young boy and the jazz angle, but the plot was ridiculously predictable and too often it slipped into an almost sickly sweet, "romance novel" style.  I felt like the author was trying to drag an emotional reaction out of me.  There were also odd anachronisms that were irritating.  The book goes from the early 1940s to 1986, but apparently in Jamie Ford's 1986, the internet exists allowing the main character's now grown son to participate in "on-line counseling" sessions after his mother's death and find his father's long lost friend with a few minutes of internet searching.  The 1986 internet????  Ok.

I finished the book, which surprised me.  I usually can't force myself to follow these through to the end when they're so predictable.   I think I just kept hoping the author would prove me wrong and do something unusual with it all -- never happened.  Skip it -- reread Farewell to Manzanar instead :)

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