Sunday, January 4, 2009

needs work

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Genre: historical fiction
Review: I love a story told from a surprising point of view. This one deals with Japanese families who were "evacuated" after in 1942 from the West Coast. Except the story is told by 12-year-old Henry, the son of Chinese immigrants. An American himself, Henry's father is an ardent Chinese nationalist who hates the Japanese not for the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but for their invasion of mainland China. Even a whiff of anything Japanese is forbidden in the house, so Henry has more than one big problem when he befriends and eventually falls in love with Keiko, whose family is inevitably evacuated to a camp in Idaho.

Unfortunately, this story needed a more polished teller. Ford flips his story back and forth from 1942, when Henry is 12, to 1986, when Henry is 56. Ordinarily, this is a great way to tell a story about what happened "back then" and how it has effected the present. But Henry's voice is just the same from the time he's 12 to the time he's 56, making his thoughts and feelings as a child more than a little unbelievable. Keiko also seems to have far too much perspective on what's happening to her family and in the world.

Added to that are the incredible anachronisms scattered throughout the book. Henry's son belongs to an online support group in 1986? The nursing home has a rear-projection TV? An editor should have picked up on these things. Admittedly, I got the book as an advance copy, so perhaps by the time the book is actually published some of these mistakes will have been fixed. At least I hope so, because they are so jarring as to make it difficult to get any actual enjoyment from this book.

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