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Memories of a Forgotten Hotel

The forbidden love of a Chinese-American boy and a Japanese-American girl during World War II is relived in a nostalgic new novel.

Jamie Ford outside the Panama Hotel in Seattle. The city’s International District was built in 1910 by the first Japanese-American architect in the area and contains the last remaining Japanese bathhouse in the U.S

Jamie Ford outside the Panama Hotel in Seattle. The city’s International District was built in 1910 by the first Japanese-American architect in the area and contains the last remaining Japanese bathhouse in the U.S

Jamie Ford is clear about his debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet  – it’s a love story. Also clear to his readers in Vero Beach, whom he recently addressed, is that Ford is just the type of guy to write a good love story. He’s sensitive and sentimental, and he understands the emotional quality that goes into the genre. “I get it,” he says.

“We all bring our own emotional baggage to the party and we react accordingly. It’s apparent who does and who doesn’t ‘get it’ when you go to a sentimental movie. At the end when the credits are rolling, you see those people who are searching for a tissue to dry their eyes, while the others are looking around and saying, ‘Well, that was a waste of eight bucks!’

Since he was a young boy, Ford was more likely to watch and appreciate classic love stories on the big screen than car-crashing action films. “The classic love stories resonate because there is so much left to the imagination. And I always wanted to write a story of that sensibility.” His novel is set in Seattle and takes place in the 1940s and the ’80s. “There is something about the decorum of the ’40s that I like. It was when love was all-consuming and not all-consummating. There is something magical about that.”

In the novel’s earlier period, shortly after the Pearl Harbor bombings, the author captures vividly the sense of time and place. Readers can almost hear and smell the bustle of the city’s Chinatown markets that 12-year-old Henry Lee passes on his way to school. Henry is the son of fiercely nationalist Chinese immigrants who hate the Japanese for such atrocities to their homeland as the bombings of Shanghai and the sacking of Nanjing. They desperately want their son, who was born in the United States, to become an American. They demand that he no longer speak Cantonese to them, only English – which virtually ends any significant communication because his parents speak hardly any English at all!

Read the entire article in the Summer 2011 issue