Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

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This book came up several times as a possible pick before someone actually chose it.  I enjoyed the story.  It's not one of the best stories I've ever read, especially with the anti-climactic ending, but it is memorable.  It's a heartwarming story about the one that got away.  I think it is a theme that a lot of people can identify with.  As a hopeless romantic, I was ready for a Jaime/Claire-type reunion (Outlander).  Sadly, the only similarity to a reunion of that magnitude is the name of the author (Jaime Ford).

About the time I began reading this book I also began a personal journey back in time - reviewing my journal from a year as an exchange student in 1987 - 1988.  I started a blog about it and announced it with a quote from this book, "I try not to live in the past, he thought, but who knows, sometimes the past lives in me." (p. 9)

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex:  0

Religion:  0

Gruesome:  0

Suspense:  1

Morality:  1

Traditional:  5

Sex - None that I recall

Religion - None that I recall

Gruesome - Nothing that I recall

Suspense - There was nothing that made me feel like I had to stay up longer to see how something was resolved

Morality - When the main subject is the suffering and unfair treatment of Japanese-Americans during the war it's not gonna get high morality points.  Although the story is told with compassion, the acts described defy morals.

Traditional - Old-time and old-cultural values are followed throughout the book

This is one of those books that has so many little nuggets that you want to hold onto forever.  For example, "...perfection isn't what families are all about." (p. 146)

Discussion Questions

Discuss the sentiment - (p. 34) Choosing to lovingly care for her was like steering a plane into a mountain as gently as possible.  The crash is imminent; it's how you spend your time on the way down that counts.

Discuss the funeral tradition of candy and quarters.  What traditions do funerals have in your culture?  (p. 42)

Discuss the aging dilemma - when they don't know they are home, is it worth keeping them there? (p. 79)

Did it seem like Henry sounded more ethnic when he spoke to Marty? (p. 83)

Keiko and Henry think grown ups can be worse than kids.  (p. 115)  Do you agree?

Keiko's dad believed eventually the other students would respect her as an American.  (p. 123)  How are Asian students regarded today?

What does it say about the 1940's that a simple button was enough to protect Henry?  Would it be enough today?

Discuss the sentiments at the bottom of p. 142.  "I'd rather have found something broken than to have it lost to me forever." and "Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

Henry wasn't sure if Mrs. Beatty was disappointed because of the unfair treatment of Japanese or annoyed that she had to work more. (p. 148)  What message was she trying to send by serving "chicken katsu-retsu"?

How much did you know of the war between Japan and China before reading this book?

At school Henry wasn't American enough but he feared if he went to Canton he wouldn't be Chinese enough. (p. 167)  Keiko also felt this way. (p. 191)  Have you ever felt caught in the middle?  

Discuss the trueness of a love that wishes them the best and lets them go - not dredging up the past. (p. 174)  Consider that Henry held back saying how he really felt to make it less painful. (p. 203)  "...the hardest choices in life aren't between who's right and wrong but between what's right and what's best." (p. 204)

Discuss the various ways the Oscar Holden record is used for symbolism.  Examples:  Many forgot or denied its existence (p. 178) and "Two halves that will never play again."  How does the record become a metaphor for Henry and Keiko? (p. 275)

Did Henry make the right choice when he walked out to retrieve Keiko's photos from the alley?  (p. 185)

Did Henry inherit his father's poor communication skills? (p. 209)

Oscar Holden had a hard time finding gigs after speaking up for Japanese. (p. 210)  Is this similar to what happened to Colin Kaepernick?

Why is it ironic that the older Japanese man walked with a limp? (p. 219)

Discuss the idea of showing loyalty by obedience.  (p. 229)

Was the 13 year old love between Henry and Keiko the same as it would be today?  Was it true love for their time?

Was it wise for Ethel to love Henry?  Did you guess she was the postal clerk?  Do you think she helped the letters go missing?  (Henry didn't - p. 265)

Did Henry ever go to China?  Why isn't it part of the story?

What happens after the book ends?

Theme Ideas

Serve:
Playlist:
Decorate with yellow Japanese roses like in the park (p. 32) and Japanese parasols or Ume flowers (p. 82)
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