Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet Summary and Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 31-page guide for “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” by Jamie Ford includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 52 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 10 important quotes, discussion questions, and key themes like Father-son relationships and being an American.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet follows Henry Lee at two pivotal stages in his life – in 1942, when he is a twelve-year-old with a crush on a Japanese girl, and in 1986, when he is recently widowed. Set in Seattle, the story unfolds in chapters that alternate between the two time periods.
In the 1942 chapters, Henry is caught between worlds. In the recent aftermath of Pearl Harbor, people of Asian descent feel the sting of prejudice and misplaced fear. At home, Henry’s traditional Chinese parents forbid him to speak anything but English, afraid he will be mistaken for Japanese and associated with the enemy. At the school Henry attends on scholarship, he is the lone Asian student and a frequent target of cruelty at the hands of his Caucasian classmates.
When a Japanese girl named Keiko Okabe begins to attend his school, the pair forms a lasting friendship that defies cultural boundaries. Before long, they find themselves separated by government proclamations that declare the West Coast a military zone and begin to evacuate all people of Japanese descent inland. Henry, who has gained the respect of Keiko and her family, hides the Okabe’s family photographs and travels to visit Keiko at various internment camps. Henry does this in direct defiance of his father’s orders, and when his deceit is discovered, his father stops speaking to him, essentially rendering Henry a stranger in his own home.
Although his relationship with Keiko blossoms into love, Henry finds that the physical distance and the many strains on their relationship may be too difficult to overcome. When months go by without correspondence from Keiko and she fails to meet him at the arranged destination – the Panama Hotel, gateway to Japantown – Henry reluctantly lets her go. He begins dating Ethel, a Chinese girl who meets the approval of his family. It is not until Henry’s father is on his deathbed that Henry learns the truth: his father had intercepted the letters between Henry and Keiko, effectively ending their relationship. Although he still has strong feelings for Keiko, Henry believes it would be unfair to Ethel to take any steps to find Keiko.
In the alternating passages from 1986, Henry has been recently widowed. After taking early retirement from his job at Boeing to care for Ethel in her final months, Henry finds himself with too much time on his hands. One day, walking past the Panama Hotel, he spots a news conference in progress. The belongings of a number of Japanese families have been located in the hotel’s basement. Henry, with the aid of his son Marty and Marty’s fiancé Samantha, begins to look through the dusty belongings in the basement in search of something belonging to Keiko and the Okabes. He finds Keiko’s sketchbook and the record – now broken – that she had once given him in thanks for helping her family. These discoveries cause Henry to reexamine the past and tell his son the whole story of his relationship with Keiko, which he had never before revealed. With the help of Marty and Samantha, Henry visits New York City and is finally reunited with Keiko.