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

Reading Group Guide

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. Ballantine Books

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 during 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." The subject matter makes this a great novel for book club discussion. The following summary and discussion questions reveal important details about the plot.

Plot Summary

"Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" opens with 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 his long-lost love, Keiko Okabe.

During the war, Lee was 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 soon 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 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. He does not receive letters in return. Lee eventually marries Ethel, a Chinese-American woman he met in the post office. Years later, Lee's father—on his deathbed—confesses to intercepting Keiko's letters. After Ethel dies, Lee and his friend Marty track down and visit Keiko in New York City.

Discussion Questions

  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.
Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Miller, Erin Collazo. ""Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" Book Club Questions." ThoughtCo, May. 24, 2021, thoughtco.com/hotel-on-the-corner-of-bitter-and-sweet-by-jamie-ford-361813. Miller, Erin Collazo. (2021, May 24). "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 September 28, 2021).