Much like the title of May's book club selection, our May book club meeting was a bittersweet gathering. Our hostess, Torrey, bid farewell to our book club to move to Boston. We've all enjoyed Torrey's contributions to our book club, and we will miss her dearly. The bitterness factor of the evening was heightened when, at the last minute, I was not able to attend book club due to work demands. I handed over to KB (a friend and colleague) what remained of the brownies I baked - 6 of which didn't make it though the day in my office - and I hung my head in sorrow. It was only the second book club meeting I'd ever missed. When an e-mail arrived later that night detailing "the best book club meeting in history", HCG morphed into "Female Attorney on the Corner of Bitter and Pissed." Let's be honest though, that transformation doesn't take much. But we'll get to that. First, a breakdown of the book.
Torrey chose Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford as her book club selection, and everyone loved it. A synopsis:
12-year-old Henry Lee is a first generation Chinese American boy living in Seattle in the 1940s at the height of the war, and Henry’s father is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While on scholarship at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore and bully 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.
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.
As you can tell from the synopsis, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet has a Romeo and Juliet element that shines a bright light on an otherwise horrifying historical event: the imprisonment of people of Japanese descent during World War II. Ford's intertwining of personal heartbreak and struggle prevented the historical aspect of the novel from becoming boring. Despite some inaccurate technological references made in 1986, the book smoothly transitioned between the early 1940s and late 1980s. The most heartwarming parts of the novel, unsurprisingly, were those that involved the young love between Henry and Keiko.
Based solely on hearsay for the reasons explained above, I learned that the world's greatest book club meeting Torrey hosted included a special menu of stir fry, background jazz music (an integral part of the novel) and incredible Chinese-themed favors (a book club first). The Diet Coke and pretzels I ate in my sad office that night while listening to Today's Big Hits on Yahoo Radio offered little competition. A big farewell to Torrey is in order. We will miss you!