Year of the Bookwormz: 2011

52 weeks. 2 friends. 1 challenge.

Book #51: LibraryLove December 11, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Book description~ Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.
This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While “scholarshipping” at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship – and innocent love – that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel’s dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice – words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.  Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

Wow. In a powerful blend of historical fact AND fiction, Jamie Ford churns out a most moving read centered around a Romeo & Juliet-type story of a young Chinese boy who falls in love with a young Japanese girl on the brink of cultural shift. You know the way a warm towel feels on your shoulders fresh from the dryer? Or the way a cool drink of water feels when you’ve been thirsty for an hour? Or the way it feels to crawl into bed after a most exhausting day? This is how Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet felt to me as I finished the last word; both bitter and sweet. You know that towel will cool down; that drink will end; that alarm will sound. It’s so sweet yet fleeting. Ford did an UH-mazing job pacing this novel just so. Shifting between war-time Seattle in the 40s and more ‘modern day’ life in the late 80s, Ford was so tender and artful in his gradual build-up in character, plot, and subplot. Henry and Keiko’s story of young love unfolded in the foreground while Henry and Marty’s once frail father-son connection flourished in the background.

“They arrested more people last night. Japanese, all over the city. All over Puget Sound. All over the state, maybe. People are getting rid of anything that might connect them to the war with Japan. Letters from Nippon. Clothing. It all must go. People are burning photos of their parents, of their families.”

Despite having no prior knowledge or understanding of the Japanese Internment camps during WWII in Seattle or the cultural divide for that matter, I couldn’t help but be immersed in Henry’s world. When people think of genocide, they instantly think of the Holocaust for the Jews. But how many would think of the Japanese Internment ? I most certainly will from now on. I was drawn in with subtlety; Ford’s writing style made it easy to get lost in Henry’s world.

I usually loathe the idea of movies being adapted from novels but in this case, if done well like Memoirs of a Geisha, this novel would translate quite beautifully on-screen. At times I drew parallels to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas , during  scenes of Keiko and Henry’s clandestine meetings in the camp. Henry and Keiko seemed so mature beyond their years and I loved how devoted Henry was, I just wish Ford had written this in first-person when the narration shifted to Henry’s story; as the reader I felt slightly removed from Henry and would have prefered to be inside his head.

My heart DROPPED as the clerk shared the ‘news’ with Henry that life-altering day at the corner of The Panama Hotel and felt my mouth agape and my eyes water; I had to read those lines a few times before they sunk in. I found myself slowing my reading pace because I realized I was almost to the end yet I wanted so much more story and knew I would have to suffice with what was left.

My only criticism is that the editor should have probably done a bit better job of fact checking; I don’t believe the internet was advanced enough for the “search” to have taken place in the late 80s for Marty to have found Keiko so easily.

I must thank Sarrina for letting me borrow this book from her; I am truly changed and wish everyone would read this book AND take their time with it.

6/5 stars (watch me!)

51 down, 1 left …wait did I really just type that?! Holy cannoli.

On deck, Oogy!

xoxo,

LibraryLove

 

Book #44: LibraryLove October 30, 2010

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Book description~  On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother–her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother–tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.

The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden–her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the enormous difficulty of loving someone fully when you know too much about them.

Like me, I’m sure throughout your life at some point, even as a kid, you wondered what it’d be like to hear people’s thoughts or be a fly on the wall. Might not be all it’s cracked up to be…especially not for Rose Adelstein. Rhe blessing is also her curse, as Rose can taste people’s feelings and emotions through the food they cook. The worst part- those feelings, emotions and secrets are of her family, among others.  Discovering her curse through a bite of chocolate lemon cake made by her mother on her 8th birthday, Rose’s life would never be the same. Never again could she ignore the painful secrets or struggle of her mother, who is restless and feels that something is missing from her life though she does not know what, her father,  who never really “got” how to be a Dad, and her older brother Joseph, so intelligent, he is unable to assimilate into the rest of society.

Lemon Cake follows Rose through the years and into young adulthood as she learns how to harness the surreal power she was given and try to keep her family’s inner secrets.

This book was much different than I expected. Chosen by one of my book club babes for November discussion and despite wanting to adore this novel, I couldn’t help but feeling rather ambivalent about it. Bender does a nice job building the rising action but her bizarre lack of conversational punctuation became a bit of a cumbersome distraction, and her subtlety was almost too subtle for my liking.

One of my favorite parts is when Rose learns how to find loopholes in her curse; she’s able to use the school cafeteria vending machine as a “safety” net since the foods are not handmade, but made in a factory by machines. Unfortunately, although I think Bender had a great concept for a book, she doesn’t necessarily tie up all the parts of the story as I would have liked. As the reader, we are invested in each character introduced, not just Rose. For me, the book ended much too soon; I felt as though Bender only wrote the first half of the story. In particular, I would have loved to see where Rose’s life went as a result of the the job at the school working with children.

I think there is a happy medium between being subtle in the way you write, like Diane Setterfield, and being TOO subtle to the point where you may be losing your audience along the attempt. Unfortunately, I think Bender was the latter.

I’m looking forward to hearing what the book club babes think about this one next weekend.

3/5 stars

In progress- Burnt Toast by Teri Hatcher

44 down, 8 to go!

xo♥xo,

LibraryLove