Friday, November 4, 2011

Safe Keeping

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford is a sweet but predictable story about a boy who befriends an American born Japanese girl, growing up in Seattle during World War II.  The twist that makes this story interesting is that the boy, Henry, is Chinese, and that the difference matters in the 1940s.  In 2011, people who are not part of the Asian community frequently refer to people of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese descent all as being "Asian", or if the speaker is over 60, as being "Oriental".  In the 1940s, whether a person was Japanese or Chinese made a huge difference, even when both people were actually born in the US.  The Chinese were our friends, and the Japanese were our enemies.

The story in Hotel alternates between the war years of the 1940s, and 1986, when the belongings of several Japanese families were found in the basement of an old hotel.  In 1986, Henry is still living in Seattle, but now he has an adult son.  At the beginning, the relationship between Henry and his son, Marty, is much like the relationship between the Major and his son in Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.  Like the Major, Henry has recently lost his wife, and his relationship with his son has suffered.  Both sons are dating white American women, and judge their fathers harshly.  However, as Hotel progresses, the relationship evolves in unexpected ways.

The story of the Japanese internment was told by Henry, who was not "evacuated for his own safety" like the Japanese.  He struggles to understand how Americans are turning against each other, based solely on the countries of their grandparents' birth.  Another book that tells the story of the internment of the Japanese in America is When the Emperor Was Divine  by Julie Otsuka.  Emperor details the lives of various members of a Japanese American family, in a way that is more harsh, and probably more real than that in Hotel.

Next up on CD:  The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman.  I started listening to this one today, and am not impressed so far.  Hopefully the plot will thicken in the second and subsequent chapters.

Still Reading:  Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

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