Saturday, February 04, 2012

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Y.A. fiction.

Seriously, as I cruised through the superficial, sentimental writing, populated with evil or heartwarming characters, I kept wondering what age group this was intended for.

The story, of a Chinese boy and a Japanese girl brought together by chance and then separated first by his father's animosity to all things Japanese and then by World War II internment, has the elements of a good story and an interesting historical setting. Nevertheless, the characters are too simple and one-dimensional, and I mean all of them, to pass as adult fiction. The young lovers, Henry and Keiko (yes, Romeo and Juliet in this version of the story)and their pure love; the contrast between Henry's narrowminded father and Keiko's openhanded, welcoming one; Sheldon, an older black saxophone player who serves as Henry's protector; and Chaz, emblematic of the bullies who tormented Henry and Keiko at school: each of these characters and more embody traits or values rather than living.

It is impossible not to be touched by Henry and Keiko's love, to see that they love each other before Henry, at least, realizes it, and to feel Henry's pain at their separation. Similarly, the novel makes palpable the injustice and outrage of the internment of American citizens in concentration camps.

Everything, from the difficulties thrown in Henry's path to their resolution, is predictable. In addition, in the scenes set in the present (1985) Henry seems like an old, old man; if you do the math he is 56 but seems much older.

If you tell me this is intended for adults I'll believe you, with some reluctance. If so, however, it left this adult reader wishing for more.

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Blogger Leon Sirulnick said...

Your comments about the superficiality of the story line was an excellent way of describing how I felt when I completed the book as part of our monthly library reading group assignment. The story line was historically and socially important but the narrative seemed too simplistic for a serious adult book. We've read some books that were categorized for young adults, "The Book Thief" for one, was so much more sophisticated in it's literary style. I found myself scanning past multiple paragraphs whithout missing a beat just to get further into the events in the story which I would never do with better written novels.

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