Tuesday, December 15, 2009

True Love Knows No Boundaries


Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
by Jamie Ford

If you are looking for a book that will restore your faith in the power of love to overcome barriers of hatred and mistrust, this is one you will not want to miss. Ford's writing style is low-key and fairly undramatic, but its spareness somehow works to convey the intensity of the character's emotions in a powerful way. I had a sense that Ford was holding back, intentionally not writing in the emotional style that we Americans are used to - after all, he was writing about two very reserved cultures. He does a good job in his writing of conveying how young people in the Japanese and Chinese cultures were expected to respect and obey their elders without question, and thus ended up stuffing a lot of their emotions inside.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is set in both the World War II era and in the mid-1990s, as an aging man looks back on his life and wonders what happened to his first love. As children on the verge of adolescence, Henry and Keiko are pulled between the enmity of their people (Henry is Chinese and Keiko is Japanese) and the alliance that develops between them as the only Asian kids at their school. Keiko is mercilessly mocked by the other students after Pearl Harbor. Since no one bothers to get to know Henry, they assume he is Japanese as well and are just as cruel to him. Henry and Keiko become friends as they defend each other from the taunts and occasional physical threats of their classmates.

Henry is heartbroken when Keiko's family is forced to move to an internment camp, and he keeps in touch with her for awhile. However, his controlling, Japan-hating father intervenes to put an end to the relationship. Both characters move on with their lives, but neither forgets the other.

I won't say any more about the plot, because I do not want to be a "spoiler." This is more than a typical romance novel - romance is certainly a part of it, as we see in the tender gestures that Henry and Keiko each make toward the other as they enter their teenage years. The novel also speaks a truth about the power of love beyond the initial giddy romantic feelings. Commitment and steadfastness are the factors that make love last, and the reader will be cheering for Henry and Keiko to find each other and find that happiness again.

Reverent Reader

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