Saturday, March 20, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (novel)

This is my book club's current selection. I am not a fan of romance novels on principle; I'm too much of a cynic. Not that this is a trashy romance novel, but it is a love story, and one that found me with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes more than a few times, despite myself. It tells the story of two young teens, a Chinese boy and a Japanese girl, both American by birth and living on the Pacific coast during WWII, who fall in love but are thwarted by both the boy's father who sees anyone Japanese as the enemy, and the war itself which results in all persons of Japanese ancestry being evacuated to "relocation camps" for the duration of the war.

It gives an interesting look at the internment of Japanese-American citizens during WWII. I've heard vague allusions to concentrations camps right here on American soil during the war, but never really knew much about them until now. The novel inspired me to do a little online research of my own into this shameful slice of American history. The concentration camps here were very different from the Nazi concentration camps everyone has become familiar with; the prisoners were generally treated well and were only held until the war was over and then released. However, these were American citizens who were suddenly stripped of their rights and forced to pack whatever could fit into a suitcase, leaving the rest of their belongings behind, in most cases never to be retrieved, and to move hundreds of miles away to live in substandard housing in desolate areas.

The main character, Henry, a Chinese-American boy, makes many valiant attempts to hold onto his Japanese sweetheart, but of course they are eventually separated and go on to lead very separate lives, with only distant memories and tender heartache for the absence of the other. I won't give away the ending; read it for yourself. Mine's up for grabs.

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