Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet cover.jpg
Cover of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Author Jamie Ford
Cover artist Kathleen DiGrado
Language English
Genre Historical Fiction
Publisher Ballantine Books
Published in English
1 February 2009
Pages 290
ISBN 0-345-50533-6

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is historical fiction. It is a bestselling novel (2009) by Jamie Ford about the love and friendship between Henry Lee, a Chinese-American boy, and Keiko Okabe, a Japanese American girl, during the internment in World War II.

Henry meets a girl named Keiko. Soon, Henry and Keiko bond. The two become very close friends, even though both are bullied due to race. Henry feels a sense of filial piety to his parents. Although kind, Henry sneaks out one night and Keiko gives him her family pictures. Henry must protect these before they are taken. He then travels with the lunch lady to work at Camp Harmony where he sees her. He follows her with his friend, a local jazz musician named Sheldon, to Minidoka, Idaho. Upon finding her there, he promises to wait for her. They decide to write each other letters until the war is over, and Henry returns to Seattle.

He religiously mails Keiko letters but receives very few in return. His father is intent on sending Henry to China, now that the Japanese are being pushed back, to finish his education traditionally. Henry arrives home one day to find a ticket to China in his name. He agrees to go on the condition that his father (as part of an association of elders) saves the Panama Hotel from being sold. The Panama Hotel is where Keiko's family stored the larger part of their belongings when they were shipped to the internment camps. Many other families also stored their possessions in the basement of the Panama Hotel, which later became a National Historic Landmark and National Treasure.


2010 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature[1]
2010 Washington State Book Award Finalist
2009 Montana Book Award
2009 Borders Original Voices Selection
2009 Director's Mention, Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction
2009 One of BookBrowse's Top 3 Favorite Books

Critical reception[edit]

The Kirkus Review hailed the novel as "A timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don’t repeat those injustices."[2] Kevin Clouther of Booklist mentions that "Although Ford does not have anything especially novel to say about a familiar subject (the interplay between race and family), he writes earnestly and cares for his characters, who consistently defy stereotype."[3]

The Seattle Times praised the book as "A wartime-era Chinese-Japanese variation on Romeo and Juliet . . . The period detail [is] so revealing and so well rendered . . . It's clear on every page how thoroughly Ford, who grew up here did his research."[4]


  1. ^ 2010 "Asian/Pacific American Award For Literature Winners selected", American Library Association, February 3, 2010, accessed July 11, 2011.
  2. ^ "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet", Kirkus Review, October 15, 2008, accessed July 11, 2011.
  3. ^ "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet", Booklist, November 15, 2008, accessed July 11, 2011.(subscription required)
  4. ^ "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” recalls World War II-era Seattle, Upchurch, Michael February 06, 2009, accessed March 10, 2016.
  • "HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET". Kirkus Reviews. 76 (20): 1086. 2008-10-15. ISSN 0042-6598. 
  • "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet". Publishers Weekly. 255 (37): 40. 2008-09-15. ISSN 0000-0019. 
  • Clouther, Kevin (2008-11-15). "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet". Booklist. 105 (6): 27. ISSN 0006-7385. 
  • Burkhardt, Joanna M. (October 1, 2008). "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet". Library Journal. 133 (16): 56. ISSN 0363-0277.