All I need to be entertained are cats within ear-scratching distance and a good book . . .OK, maybe that's not ALL I need, but it's a good start.

I love to read. And I love to get recommendations for books to read.

I started Cats and a Book to share the books I read with others. Some I love, some I don't, but you may love the ones I don't, so you're welcome to post your own comments and suggestions.

To make it easier to purchase books you may read about on the blog, I've linked to through The Cats and a Book Bookstore, which is located on the bottom of this page. Your purchases are fulfilled and handled through Amazon. To assure your privacy, Cats and a Book doesn't handle any of your payment or contact information.

Happy reading!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford

In celebration of the Chinese New Year, this weekend's selection features the story of a Chinese-American boy growing up in Seattle during the early years of World War II. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford, is the story of his first love and his coming of age in a world that is complex and contradicting. 

Twelve-year-olds Henry Lee and Keiko Okabe attend a "white school" on what Henry's dad called "scholarshipping," presumably because of their outstanding academic performance.  "Scholarshipping" status meant that they both worked in the kitchen during lunch, alongside a gruff but sympathetic lunch lady.  Although both were born in America, Henry and Keiko are targets of unrelenting teasing by classmates because they are Chinese and Japanese, respectively.  Henry's parents are more traditional, speaking to him only in Chinese but insisting that he speak nothing by English, creating a wide communication gap in their own home.  Because of hostility toward Japanese following the attack on Pearl Harbor, they require Henry to wear a pin that says, "I am Chinese."

Henry and Keiko share an interest in jazz, which is forbidden in Henry's household but encouraged in Keiko's, and when Henry's friend Sheldon lands a gig with Oscar Holden, they are delighted to sneak into his club one night.  The budding romance, secret from Henry's parents, is suddenly challenged by the requirement of all Japanese and their descendants to report to internment camps.  While Henry manages to see Keiko a few times until she is relocated further east, her letters stop after a time and their two lives spin apart.

The hotel for which the book is named is a landmark called The Panama Hotel in the Japanese district of the city, Nihonmachi.  During the process of it being remodeled, a cache of Japanese family belongings, hastily stored prior to their relocation, is found.  Many remain unclaimed, but Henry sorts through the piles of keepsakes to find items once belonging to Keiko's family. It is this discovery that leads Henry to find out if things that are broken can be fixed. 

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet weaves information about the Japanese internment during WWII into this love story that transcends ethnic boundaries and countries of origin.  A light read, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was published in 2009.

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