I had just finished reading “Hotel On The Corner of Bitter and Sweet” by Jamie Ford and this is one of the books I will review here. The other is “Tallgrass” by Sandra Dallas which I read after browsing through saved Book Club emails and found. I review them together as they are related in one important way; both are novels about aspects of the very sad time which is history to most of you but memory to me: the relocation of the Japanese families that lived on the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.
The first book “Hotel……:” is the story of a Chinese family in Seattle, a father and mother and their second generation son. The father is very traditional and has in fact been sent to China by his parents to be educated so that he will know his heritage and traditions, a thing he plans to do for his son when he reaches high school age. Meanwhile, he arranges a scholarship for him to an exclusive all white middle school, where part of the scholarship is earned by the boy working in the cafeteria and after school doing janitorial work. There is another scholarship student he works with: a Japanese girl. Both are bullied and rejected by the white students and join together to be friends. When the round-up of Japanese begins the Chinese boy is devastated and actually travels to the internment center to see his friend. The hotel is a boarded up building where the Japanese families have stored their belongings in the belief that they will be able to return later to retrieve them….This is a story that is mostly about the Chinese family and the boy, but gives insight into the cultures of both Chinatown and Japantown, and the families that live there. The devastating scene when the Japanese families are standing in line to board trains that will take them to a center in Idaho reveals the injustice of this policy and the sadness of the families and children. There is much more to this, as the boy is befriended by a black man who is a jazz saxaphone player who sets up on street corner to play and support himself with donations. It is still the Depression. There is a subplot concerning the sax player and the great jazz musicians of Seattle.
When I read Kathryn’s review of “Tallgrass” I knew it should be read consecutively with the first book, as it was the story of what amounted to a concentration camp in Colorado where the Japanese were interred, and the community that was adjacent to the camp. It is a story of bigotry, courage and kindness. If you haven’t read “Tallgrass“, do. And if possible read “Hotel….” first.