Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a beautifully written historical novel, which proves that love knows no boundaries and something good can be found even during the most terrible times. Each word of it makes a heart swell with sadness, for it is impossible to stay indifferent to injustice that many of us have not witnessed and even never thought about. This is the story, which proves that extreme bigotry is destructive and arrogance or unwillingness to admit mistakes will only lead to disappointments.
The protagonist of the novel, Henry Lee, was born in the USA. He spoke English as good as Cantonese, which was the language of his parents, who were ultra-Chinese. There was no doubt that Henry’s parents tried to do their best in order to raise their son as a true patriot of China, so that he could return to his Motherland in the future. However, the methods they used to bring him up were more than strange. If they wanted him to be a great patriot of China, why would they have forbidden him speak Cantonese? That confused Henry a lot and soon enough he started using English just to hide certain aspects of his life from his parents. His biggest secret was Keiko, a Japanese American girl from his school. While the Imperial Japanese Army was destroying Nanking, Henry was falling for Keiko.
Taking into account all the terrible things he heard about Japan and Japanese people from his father, Henry had to hate her, but that thought never lingered in his mind. Why? The answer was the USA. Both Henry and Keiko were born in the USA, the country which was foreign for their parents or – in Keiko’s case – grate parents, meant for them more than their distant and mysterious Motherlands. Unlike Keiko’s parents, who taught their daughter to love the country of her birth as much as they loved the country of their ancestors, Henry’s parents just made the situation even worse for him. He didn’t know what to do. The sign on his chest read “I am Chinese”, the kids in his school called him “a Jap” or “yellow”, while the kids from Seattle’s Chinatown called him “white devil”. He was an outcast, who didn’t even know where he belonged to. Instead of helping him, Henry’s father preferred to disown him just because his only one son was in love with the enemy. But who in their right mind would consider Keiko’s family the enemy? Her father fought in Europe as an American soldier, which meant that he fought against the Imperial Japanese Army. Unfortunately, Henry’s father would never admit that he could be wrong.
The theme of racism in this novel is a significant one even today. Unfortunately, the majority of people uses prejudices and arrogance as defense mechanisms. Changes are frightening, but we shouldn’t let our fears make us behave inhumanely. It could be possible that the author uses a theme of jazz music to remind us that there is always something that unites us. We are all different, our backgrounds might have nothing in common at all, but such things as love, friendship and art can bring us together.