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  New York Times Review

On the eve of America's World War II internment of its Japanese residents, 12-year-old Henry Lee meets his first true love. Her name is Keiko, and she's the only other Asian at Henry's otherwise all-white Seattle elementary school. She's also Japanese, which lies at the heart of Henry's subsequent struggles - with his Chinese nationalist father; his racist, bullying classmates; and, finally, his brutally suspicious country. The hotel of the book's title is the real Panama Hotel, and that's where Ford's story begins, with the basement discovery of what Seattle's Japanese families left behind when they were sent to the camps. The tale jumps between 1986, just after the death of Henry's wife (whose name is not Keiko), and the 1940s, setting up its driving mystery: What happened to Henry's dark-eyed childhood sweetheart? Though the story of life in war-era Seattle and the detention of the city's Japanese families, including Keiko's, is rich in detail, its characters feel thin. Henry is terribly earnest and seems always too old for his age - at 12, he has the caution and calm of a 56-year-old; at 56, Ford refers to him as "Old Henry Lee."

  Library Journal Review

Fifth-grade scholarship students and best friends Henry and Keiko are the only Asians in their Seattle elementary school in 1942. Henry is Chinese, Keiko is Japanese, and Pearl Harbor has made all Asians--even those who are American born--targets for abuse. Because Henry's nationalistic father has a deep-seated hatred for Japan, Henry keeps his friendship with and eventual love for Keiko a secret. When Keiko's family is sent to an internment camp in Idaho, Henry vows to wait for her. Forty years later, Henry comes upon an old hotel where the belongings of dozens of displaced Japanese families have turned up in the basement, and his love for Keiko is reborn. In his first novel, award-winning short-story writer Ford expertly nails the sweet innocence of first love, the cruelty of racism, the blindness of patriotism, the astonishing unknowns between parents and their children, and the sadness and satisfaction at the end of a life well lived. The result is a vivid picture of a confusing and critical time in American history. Recommended for all fiction collections.--Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Lib., Providence (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Booklist Review

Ford vacillates between a front story dominated by nostalgia and a backstory dominated by fear. The front story struggles to support the weight of the backstory, and the complexity Ford brings to the latter is the strength of this debut novel, which considers a Chinese American man's relationship with a Japanese American woman in the 1940s and his son in the 1980s. Although Ford does not have anything especially novel to say about a familiar subject (the interplay between race and family), he writes earnestly and cares for his characters, who consistently defy stereotype. Ford posits great meaning in objects a button reading I am Chinese and a jazz record, in particular but the most striking moments come from the characters' readings of each other: Henry couldn't picture bathing with his parents the way some Japanese families did. He couldn't picture himself doing a lot of things with his parents. . . . He felt his stomach turn a little. His heart raced when he thought about Keiko, but his gut tightened just the same. --Clouther, Kevin Copyright 2008 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

Sentimental, heartfelt novel portrays two children separated during the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. In 1940s Seattle, ethnicities do not mix. Whites, blacks, Chinese and Japanese live in separate neighborhoods, and their children attend different schools. When Henry Lee's staunchly nationalistic father pins an "I am Chinese" button to his 12-year-old son's shirt and enrolls him in an all-white prep school, Henry finds himself friendless and at the mercy of schoolyard bullies. His salvation arrives in the form of Keiko, a Japanese girl with whom Henry forms an instantand forbiddenbond. The occasionally sappy prose tends to overtly express subtleties that readers would be happier to glean for themselves, but the tender relationship between the two young people is moving. The older Henry, a recent widower living in 1980s Seattle, reflects in a series of flashbacks on his burgeoning romance with Keiko and its abrupt ending when her family was evacuated. A chance discovery of items left behind by Japanese-Americans during the evacuation inspires Henry to share his and Keiko's story with his own son, in hopes of preventing the dysfunctional parent-child relationship he experienced with his own father. The major problem here is that Henry's voice always sounds like that of a grown man, never quite like that of a child; the boy of the flashbacks is jarringly precocious and not entirely credible. Still, the exploration of Henry's changing relationship with his family and with Keiko will keep most readers turning pages while waiting for the story arc to come full circle, despite the overly flowery portrait of young love, cruel fate and unbreakable bonds. A timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don't repeat those injustices. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Summary
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * "An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut that explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans in the Seattle era during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love."--Lisa See <br> <br> Special anniversary edition with bonus material including a new short story, "Only Keiko," an interview, and a map of 1940s Seattle <br> <br> In 1986, Henry Lee joins a crowd outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has discovered the belongings of Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during World War II. As the owner displays and unfurls a Japanese parasol, Henry, a Chinese American, remembers a young Japanese American girl from his childhood in the 1940s--Keiko Okabe, with whom he forged a bond of friendship and innocent love that transcended the prejudices of their Old World ancestors. After Keiko and her family were evacuated to the internment camps, she and Henry could only hope that their promise to each other would be kept. Now, forty years later, Henry explores the hotel's basement for the Okabe family's belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot even begin to measure. His search will take him on a journey to revisit the sacrifices he has made for family, for love, for country.<br> <br> Praise for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet <br> <br> "A tender and satisfying novel set in a time and a place lost forever, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet gives us a glimpse of the damage that is caused by war--not the sweeping damage of the battlefield but the cold, cruel damage to the hearts and humanity of individual people. This is a beautifully written book that will make you think. And, more important, it will make you feel." --Garth Stein, bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain <br> <br> "Mesmerizing and evocative, a tale of conflicted loyalties and timeless devotion." --Sara Gruen, bestselling author of Water for Elephants <br> <br> "A wartime-era Chinese-Japanese variation on Romeo and Juliet . . . The period detail [is] so revealing and so well rendered." -- The Seattle Times <br> <br> "A poignant story that transports the reader back in time . . . a satisfying and heart-wrenching tale." -- Deseret Morning News <br> <br> "A lovely combination of romantic coincidence, historic detail and realism that is smooth and highly readable . . . Ford does wonderful work in re-creating prewar Seattle." -- The Oregonian
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