'Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet' Book Club Questions

Reading Group Guide


Published in 2009, "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" is a historical fiction novel by Jamie Ford that has been a book club favorite since it was released. It is a book about love and loss, at a time of great prejudice and racism in the U.S. Kirkus Review notes that the novel "...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”—making it a great novel for a book-club discussion. (Spoiler alert: These book club discussion questions reveal important details about "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet," so you may want to finish the book before reading on.)

Plot Summary

The book opens with the protagonist, Henry Lee, joining a crowd in front of the Panama Hotel, which stands at the entrance to what was once Seattle’s "Japantown." The hotel had been boarded up for decades, but the new owner has found items in its basement that Japanese families were forced to abandon when they were sent to internment camps during World War II. Among the items, Lee sees a Japanese parasol that he is sure once belonged to a long-lost love: Keiko Okabe.

During the war years, Lee had been a student at an all-White school where he was ignored by the White students but befriended by Keiko. He falls for her but is too shy to profess his love. Keiko is eventually forced to relocate with her family to an internment camp. Lee hides photo albums for Keiko's family, but his father finds out and demands that Lee discard them. Lee refuses and his father disowns him, even though Lee is only 13 and lives in the same apartment.

Lee visits Keiko in the camp, tells her he loves her, and starts writing to her regularly, but, after a while, he rarely receives responses from her—or so it seems. Years later, Lee's father—on his deathbed—confesses to intercepting Keiko's letters before they could get to Lee. Lee eventually marries Ethel, a Chinese-American woman he has met in the post office (while mailing his many letters to Keiko). Decades later, Lee's wife dies. With the help of a friend, Marty, Lee tracks down Keiko, now living in New York City, and goes to visit her, showing up at her apartment door.

Questions and Discussion Points

  1. Why do you think "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" was told in flashbacks? What perspective can an older Henry give?
  2. How was Henry's relationship with Marty different than his relationship with his father? How was it the same? Even though tradition was important to both men, how did Henry and his father view tradition and heritage differently?
  3. Was the information the novel presented about Japanese-American internment new to you? What did you learn?
  4. Do you think Henry was right to stay with Ethel even after he found out about his father's deceit? Should he have searched for Keiko?
  5. Do you think Ethel knew what was happening to Henry's letters?
  6. If you were Henry, could you forgive your father?
  7. What do you think happened after the novel ended?
  8. Rank "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" on a scale of one to 10 and explain the reasons for your ranking.
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Your Citation
Miller, Erin Collazo. "'Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet' Book Club Questions." ThoughtCo, Mar. 28, 2021, thoughtco.com/hotel-on-the-corner-of-bitter-and-sweet-by-jamie-ford-361813. Miller, Erin Collazo. (2021, March 28). 'Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet' Book Club Questions. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hotel-on-the-corner-of-bitter-and-sweet-by-jamie-ford-361813 Miller, Erin Collazo. "'Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet' Book Club Questions." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hotel-on-the-corner-of-bitter-and-sweet-by-jamie-ford-361813 (accessed April 17, 2021).