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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

(10 customer reviews)

Price: £6.99£8.99

Read An Extract of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

E-book, E-Book (USA), Paperback

Author Jamie Ford
Rights UK & Comm ex Can/Aus/NZ
ISBN 9780749010720
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The word-of-mouth sensation that has captivated readers across the globe.

Over a million copies sold worldwide.

Over 2 years on the New York Times Bestseller.

Translated into 30 languages.

#1 on UK Small Publishers Bestsellers List


1986, The Panama Hotel.

The old Seattle landmark has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made a startling discovery in the basement: personal belongings stored away by Japanese families sent to interment camps during World War II. Among the fascinated crowd gathering outside the hotel stands Henry Lee, and, as the owner unfurls a distinctive parasol, he is flooded by memories of his childhood. He wonders if by some miracle, in amongst the boxes of dusty treasures, lies a link to the Okabe family, and the girl he lost his heart to so many years ago.

What The Critics Said

'Wonderfully written, beautifully evocative'

Random Things Through My Letterbox

' Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet', by Jamie Ford is a novel to recommend, one of those rare stories which would appeal to so many.'

Sarah Clarke, The Bookseller (Bookseller's Choice)

'Already a big hit..and it’s easy to see why...The story is simple and simply told...a good read which unfolds slowly and builds up to a very moving climax on several levels... and the incidental colour and detail of life in wartime Seattle is fascinating. I thought it was a really interesting book about a period that's not very often written about, and I enjoyed it very much.'

Adèle Geras, author of A Hidden Life

'A warm and sentimental novel, this is a lovely piece of light fiction about a dark time and harsh events.'

Good Book Guide

'This is a moving, heart-rending story - to steal from the book’s title, bittersweet really does describe this tale... It’s a special book, filled with struggles, separation and sadness, but equally with friendship, love and hope. I knew nothing about the events in these communities; I found it fascinating.'

The Little Reader Library Blog

'Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is very special...It is a superb love story, an emotional weepy with lots of heart, a lovely, lovely book.'

Sarah Broadhurst, The Bookseller

'The book has been a big ‘word of mouth’ seller, and it is easy to see why. The reader becomes very embroiled in Henry’s life and experiences and really feels for him as he struggles to come to terms with his family situation, school life and his first love. This is a thoroughly enjoyable novel with strong characters and something important to say. Very much recommended.'

Historical Novels Review

'The ripple effect of wartime failures also lies at the heart of Jamie Ford’s The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. The experience of Japanese-American citizens caught stateside in the wake of Pearl Harbor has become a dusty footnote to the conflict.However, Ford deftly pulls off a Hollywood-worthy romance from the files, one anchored to a true event...Ford has a keen eye for the difficulties of youth and the struggles inherent in a cultural hot-pot. Friendship, this book illustrates, is an early victim of such times. This is an entertaining and often illuminating tale that no doubt will be appearing at a cinema near you soon.'

The Spectator

'A poignant, deeply moving story of hope and determination, friendship and love.'

We Love this Book

'Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a must-read...
Enchanting...thought-provoking... fascinating... a mesmerising love story with unforgettable characters.
The issues of racism, paranoia, bullying, friendship, loyalty, father and son relationships, a search for identity and belonging, patriotism, and the sweet innocence of first love, are all woven seamlessly into the fabric of the story, as are fascinating details about Chinese and Japanese traditions and customs.
The subtitle on the cover of the book states: THE BOOK A MILLION PEOPLE HAVE FALLEN IN LOVE WITH and I must add my name to that long list. Jamie FOrd is a sensational writer [and] Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a book that I will certainly be recommending to everyone...
Dazzling and wonderfully satisfying.'

Bookish Magpie

‘Mesmerising and evocative.’

Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author of 'Water for Elephants'

'A beautiful and tender masterpiece. A book everyone will be talking about and the best book you’ll read this year. I loved it!'

Anne Frasier, bestselling author of 'Hush'


Lisa See, New York Times bestselling author of 'Snow Flower'

‘Tender and satisfying...beautifully written. It will make you think. But, more importantly, it will make you feel.’

Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of 'The Art of Racing in the Rain'

‘Ford expertly nails the sweet innocence of first love, the cruelty of racism, the blindness of patriotism, the astonishing unknowns between parents and their children, and the sadness and satisfaction at the end of a life well lived. The result is a vivid picture of a confusing and critical time in American history. Recommended.’

Library Journal

'Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet surprised me - rich in dialogue, peopled with great characters and rooted firmly in the best of American traditions, family, honesty and friendship - the book is a feast. It's taken a while to get to the UK but the good folks at Allison & Busby definitely have a winner on their hands...
It's a wonderful, thoughtful novel without pretensions. The strength of the characters and the gripping storyline marry seamlessly, as does the writer's ability to showcase Seattle in the "then" and "now".
I never knew about the Japanese internment camps in the States and it shocked me deeply. But it is the understated fashion Mr. Ford tells Keiko and Henry's story, that gives it the impact and the pathos. Yes, it is deeply sad at times but it also is uplifting and gently humourous in places. It proves that human spirit can keep growing in the most awful of circumstances and I loved it.'

My Favourite Books


Psychologies Magazine

‘Every once in a while a book comes along that truly touches your heart – Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the corner of Bitter and Sweet is one such book... With a wonderful characterisation, mesmerising relationships, a breathtaking narrative and a story that will most certainly leave you wanting more, Hotel on the corner of Bitter and Sweet is one of my highlights of the year. I cannot rate this title any higher – a remarkable read and a voyage not to be missed. Spellbinding.’

Milo Rambles

'I can see readily why people are raving about this book... The characterisation is second-to-none, the story is intriguing, to say the least, and throws up some issues I wasn't even aware of... There have been countless books telling stories about people unable to live out their romances because of prejudices and politics, and in terms of subject matter, this is no different. But it is such a well-told story that it sets itself apart. It's AWESOMELY GOOD!'


'Engrossing...A really good, genuinely heartfelt novel...I think I have fallen a little in love with it...I would be the million and one-th [reader] to enjoy Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet'


Have Your Say

  1. Penny Bullock, Lancaster

    This was a wonderful book which opened my eyes to an area of history I knew nothing about. It was a sit up all night and keep turning pages kind of book which ended in a very satisfactory manner. Peopled with wonderful characters, with a story that reaches to the very bottom of your heart, this is a novel not to miss. Wonderful!

  2. Ruth Clements, Stornoway

    What an amazing book, it centres around two main characters – Henry a 2nd generation Chinese boy and Keiko also a 2nd generation Japanese girl, who both have traditional family backgrounds (Henry’s family insists that he speak English, although they speak only Cantonese, his father is an elder in the local community association, and his mother stays at home. In Keiko’s family her whole family speaks English, and she does not know any Japanese as her family considers themselves to be Americain and therefore act accordingly) .
    At the beginning of the book it opens with Henry having lost his wife Ethel to cancer, it has only been six months and he still misses her, he happens to walk past the Panama Hotel and notices that objects are being taken out of the basement, one of which is an umbrella with koi fish painted on it, this brings back memories… I do not want to give any more of the plot away.
    The characters are skilfully drawn and the way the book is set out in its chapters, flitting from present time to time in the past when Henry and Keiko first meet when they are at school, both having been sent to a prestigious private school, but they are the only Chinese and Japanese pupils within. There are also other characters – his son Marty, who is graduating from university and his new girlfriend Samantha, who is not Chinese.
    I loved every single page of this book, could not wait to find out what happens, and to see if the dream comes true? The setting for the book is historical in the fact that the Japanese internment did happen in America and this is adequately described and portrayed, the writing is such that you can see the vivid imagery that is evoked.
    The quote from the book: ‘You just gave me hope Henry. And sometimes hope s enough to get you through anything’ is very apt and appropriate for the main theme of the book is about love and how it can transcend over a number of years, no matter what is happening in the people’s lives.
    It made me linger on the final pages as I did not want to finish the book and it is one that will stay with me, I look forward to more books by this brilliant author!

  3. Anne Cater

    Jamie Ford’s ‘Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet’ has already been a world-wide sensation since it was originally published in 2009. It was re-released by Allison and Busby for the UK in April 2011 and I send a huge thank you to Lesley from A&B who knows my taste so very well and sent me this copy for review.

    It’s at times like this that I wish I were a writer and not just a reader as there is no way my words can ever do this beautiful novel the justice that it deserves. I would go as far as using the word ‘masterpiece’ to describe it and I feel a little bereft at the thought that I no longer have the wonderful world of Henry Lee to escape to having finished the book.

    A dual time narrative, set in 1942 and 1986 – in Seattle, USA, with Henry Lee as the main character. In 1942, Henry is 13 years old and attending a Caucasian school in the city. Henry doesn’t really know just who he is. At home he is forbidden to speak Cantonese as his parents want him to be ‘American’, yet neither his Father or his Mother speak English well enough to hold a conversation. At school, he is bullied and picked on by the white American pupils and called a ‘white devil’ by the Chinese kids in the area who attend the Chinese school. And then there is the badge that his Father insists that he wear on his jacket – the one that reads ‘I Am Chinese’. Henry’s father is terrified that someone will mistake him for a a Japanese boy – America is at war and the Japanese are the enemy, even those that were born in America.

    At school, Henry helps out in the school canteen and it is when American-born of Japanese parents, Keiko begins to work there too that he realises just how different he is to his father. To him Keiko is his special friend, she’s American, her parents are professional people, she doesn’t even speak Japanese. Henry and Keiko become allies – discovering Jazz music and spending hours together.

    And then, the USA Government decide to ‘evacuate’ everyone of Japanese origin. Keiko and her family are sent to ready-made internment camps where they will stay for the next three years or so. In the rush to leave, some of the Japanese families ask their friends to look after some of their possessions – others are stored in the basement of the Panama Hotel. It is when Henry’s father finds Keiko’s possessions in his room that he finally stops speaking to him altogether.

    The 1980s section of the story opens with the discovery of the possessions that have been stored in the basement for over 40 years – as Henry passes by, all his memories of his friendship with Keiko rush back to him – memories both bitter and sweet.

    To say anymore about the story would give it all away – and I don’t want to do that. I do want to urge everyone to pick up this wonderfully written, beautifully evocative story and read it. It’s in no way soppy or sentimental, yet it is a true love story, but also a story that will haunt the reader. The treatment of the Japanese people, the internment camps and the subsequent loss of identity is a terrible thing, yet the stoicism and acceptance of the people shines through in this story – the whole book captures the resilience of humans. The characters are expertly drawn, with Henry and his jazz-playing friend Sheldon being my favourites.

    A fantastic debut, very well researched, tenderly written – a hugely satisfying read.

  4. Sara Nixon (Lye Down With a Good Book Reading Group)

    What a great book. I was totally hooked right from the beginning. I needed to know what happened to the characters and really engaged with them. There was enough detail and desciption but not too much that I became bored. I also learnt things about different cultures and countries. All in all a wonderful book that I think everyone should read.

  5. Gill Gray, Stourbridge (Lye Down with a Good Book Reading Group)

    A beautifully written book, with warm, likeable characters who you felt at home with. Henry Lee was portrayed as such a lovely man and it was his character which made the book so endearing. A story of lost love, childhood, prejudice and war, but also of endurance and acceptance and resignation that life doesn’t always turn out the way you would want it to.
    I loved this book and read it in two sittings. I look forward to reading more books from this author.

  6. Joanne

    This is a story which having read it feels so fragile a tale to tell. It is a book for all those who love novels based in or about the Second World War. What made this different for me was the fact, it is based in Seattle, America and this is about the Chinese and Japanese citizens there and how the war affected them personally.

    Imagine being born in a country and to all intents and purposes being an American Citizen but having Chinese descendants makes you different. Henry a twelve year old boy is this and not only do his parents want him to be American and to go to the well known Caucasian school, they want him to only speak English and not Cantonese. Very difficult when his parents speak little English, a fact that alienates him from his parents. He is to be Chinese in America but an American faithful to China, a country he has never visited. Despite this 'Americanising' Henry also has to wear a badge to say he his Chinese. Why? Because of the Japanese. Because of Pearl Harbour. Because of War.

    Keiko is Japanese and she is also twelve. She was born in America and to all intents and purposes an American Citizen. Her parents treat her differently, she cannot even speak Japanese but she is not made to choose between being Japanese or American. She is American. Keiko does not wear a badge, because since the bombing of Pearl Harbour, all Japanese especially those who live by the coast are suspected of being spies and therefore need to be interned into camps.

    A friendship strikes up between these two what others see as outcasts. They are treated in school as such, and have to do all the menial tasks such as helping with the school lunches, cleaning, emptying bins – that is their role in school. They put up with the bullying and when their friendship becomes stronger, Henry has to put up with being accused of fraternising with the enemy. An enemy who has never even set foot in Japan.

    Move forward to the 1980s and Henry is now older and recently widowed. Out walking one day he sees a familiar landmark of his childhood, The Panama Hotel being brought back to life, and from the basement come a number of items from years previous. Japanese items which were hidden by the residents before they were taken to the internment camps. Can Henry find his past amongst these items?

    The book moves backwards and forwards between these two time periods as we see the story develop and come to its conclusion. What this book does is show a piece of social history that I knew nothing about, and I am ashamed to say that. I had no idea that such things had gone on. This book also has a place in showing race and prejudice. Where just by your birth you are automatically guilty of whatever crime someone wants to accuse you of. No matter what. All the supporting characters are relevant and bring strength to the overall story and what is happening to the main characters.

    The title is somewhat appropriate. The 'bitter' is the treatment of people because of their background, their skin colour. The bitter aftertaste of how you watch and can do nothing as whole communities are moved and destroyed. It is this that for me gives the book a certain frailty. The 'sweet' is the innocence of love, so fragile, of waiting for that one person and never forgetting about them. Frailty is there in Henry and Keiko's love, so delicate it could be broken at any point. The love of parents and their offspring, the love of music and being free.

    An excellent book, and if you want to perhaps venture away from novels set in England during the Second World War period, then start with this book you will not be disappointed.

  7. Judith Siviter, Oldbury (Newbooks Magazine reader)

    Although this probably would not have been a book I would have chosen to read ordinarily, I found it drawing me into the story of Henry and Keiko. Neither America at the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbour nor Jazz music are topics I would have chosen to read about. However I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it is one of few modern novels that I would read again. It was also refreshing to read a novel without any bad language.

  8. Veronica Cooke, Bedford (Newbooks Magazine reader)

    A thoroughly enjoyable read about a not very well known area of American life during the Second World War ' that of the internment of Japanese and Japanese American citizens… I kept turning the pages because I wanted to find out what happened next, and found it both a very moving and absorbing read. I thought Henry was far too sophisticated in his thinking for a 12 year old boy but this was the only quibble I had with the whole book.

  9. Lindsay Healy, Cambridgeshire (Newbook Magazine reader)

    ‘This is a moving, heart-rending story; to steal from the book's title, bittersweet really does describe this tale. I loved Henry and Keiko, and also Sheldon, great characters who I really grew to care about as I read on…It's a special book, filled with struggles, separation and sadness, but equally with friendship, love and hope. I knew nothing about the events in these communities; I found it fascinating and feel this novel really highlights this through its story.’

  10. Maddy Broome, Bishop Auckland (Newbooks Magazine reader)

    I really enjoyed this book and I’ve already told all my friends to read it. Apparently it has sold over a million copies in the US and is ‘a word-of-mouth sensation’. I saw it for sale in Waterstones at the weekend, so I hope it is going to sell well here too. Go out and buy a copy.
    Inspired by a real event and based on the internment of Japanese families in the US during the Second World War, it is a bittersweet story of the friendship between a Chinese boy, Henry Lee and a Japanese girl, Keiko Okabe. Henry is a really lovable character, who tries his best to maintain his friendship despite his father’s deep displeasure and the separation caused by the internment.
    The real event is the discovery in the Panama Hotel of the belongings of some of the Japanese families living in Seattle, who were sent to the camps. In the novel, an older Henry thinks he recognises Keiko’s parasol. This makes him recall his friendship and also engenders a desire to know what happened to his first love, Keiko.
    This is a well written novel, full of memorable characters such as the black sax player, Sheldon and the school lunch supervisor, Mrs Beatty. Reading groups will find plenty to discuss in this book, but if you want something more, you could also read Jane Smiley’s recent book Private Life which also deals with the internment of Japanese families in the US.

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