Review: Hotel on the corner of Bitter and Sweet

hocbsSitting on the tram, memories of unrequited love in wartime flash through my head. Oh wait, that is just me catching fifteen minutes of this novel after dropping my son at school. The characters are that vivid and their voices shine through so clearly that I feel like I know these people.

I have been reading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, the much acclaimed debut novel of Jamie Ford. If you can get past the saccharine title, the characters will steal your heart. The main character is Henry, an American-born Chinese boy who lives in Seattle, USA.  There are two narratives, Henry as an adult in 1986 and Henry as a boy in 1942. Henry’s love story is set against the background of the Japanese internment during World War Two.

This is how you do readable yet hard-hitting history. The novel is primarily told through the innocent, uncomprehending eyes of a child, which, for me, softened the sometimes painful realities of the racism of the period. The book tackles the big topics of first love, immigration, generational divides and loss. However at times, the emotions can be slightly too sugary and not entirely believable for twelve-year-olds.

It wasn’t my favourite book but it was one of those stories that grew on me, making me think about it well after finishing the book. The historical facts are well-researched and intriguing as I did not know much about this period in America. I’d recommend it if you liked Memoirs of a Geisha or The Time Traveller’s Wife.

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