Monday, October 22, 2012

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Our November Book Club selection was HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET by Jamie Ford.  We all liked reading the book, and some of our members have lived in Seattle area, so they could relate to the story.  Several had read the book before and someone said "worth reading again."

Ginger started out by sharing a bit of history about the author.  I'm posting directly from his web site  "If you're Chinese, how did you get the name "Ford?"  JF answered:  "My great-grandfather was a man named Min Chung, who immigrated from Kaiping, China around 1865. Later, while working in Tonopah, Nevada, he adopted the very western name of William Ford.  Oddly enough, his son, George William Ford, was an actor in Hollywood and had to switch back to make his ethnicity more demonstrative. He appeared as a bit actor and extra in numerous films as George Chung. He also taught martial arts and was a consultant on the 70s series, Kung-Fu."

We talked about the differences between Henry and his father, between Henry and Marty, his son.  We saw positive changes with Henry and his son.  Henry thought Marty was only interested in himself, was not empathetic.  We know that he was watching his father, he was paying attention.  We found this out when Marty introduces his girlfriend to Henry, and she shares all that Marty has told her.

One item we questioned in the book was, did Henry really go to China?  Some felt he did not go, some felt he had to.  He'd do what he always did, find the sweet among the bitter.

We talked about the differences with Keiko's family and Henry's family.  There were similarities too, both of them were born in the same hospital.  Henry's Dad had him wear a button that said "I am Chinese."  He was worried so much about the sentiment during the war against the Japanese, and having someone think that Henry was Japanese.  Keiko's family was very open to Henry, even at the camp they were sent to.  Interesting characters Henry met along the way in his life, Sheldon & Mrs. Beatty.  Sheldon was very protective of Henry and Mrs. Beatty took risks for Henry, and crossed lines to help Henry and Keiko.  We liked the jazz, "good background for love story" someone said.  We felt, in this story, that being 13 years old, Henry was very brave and did not act like a child.

We discussed struggles that immigrants have, about holidays and foods.  We talked about WWII.  We talked about books that reminded us of this era, "Sarah's Key" by Tatiana de Rosnay and "Snow Falling on Cedars" by Snow Falling on Cedars: A Novel

Mrs. Robert E. Lee The Lady of Arlington by John Perry

Tuesday, October 23   Please share in discussion of this historical book at 6:30 p.m. at Park Grove Library, Cottage Grove.

Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler

The prolific Anne Tyler is an author I have never read, and in a matter of a short time, have read "Saint Maybe" and through another book club, "Noah's Compass. " One more book "Back When We Were Grown Ups" awaits my break in books, begging to be read.

What did the Park Grove Library Book Club members think when we discussed this book at our September meeting?  Most liked it, a couple did not.  One stated "Didn't hate it, didn't love it."

"Could have happened to anyone in real life, " someone stated, "things like that happen."

Inside the book cover, we read:  In 1965 the Bedloe family lives on a quiet street in Baltimore.  It is an "ideal, apple-pie household," and seventeen-year-old Ian has all the usual expectations and dreams for the future.  One of our first questions had to do with Ian.  Was it his fault?  Did his feelings toward Lucy play a role?  We commented that he was aroused by his sister-in-law and had to take a step back regarding his feelings surfacing and guilt.  He was taken advantage of with babysitting.  He didn't understand her, was trying to put that together like a puzzle piece.  We, the readers, felt we didn't know anything about her, were mystified by her.  What kind of woman would send a bowling ball through the mail?

After the tragedy, Ian takes care of the children, along with his parents.  We talked about the children's effort to marry him off, one time planning to have Miss Pennington join them at their home for an evening meal.  Agatha and Thomas took care of Daphne when she was little. Agatha did what she needed to do to keep the family together, even hiding papers in her jewelry box, telling Thomas not to tell anyone or they'll ship us off to some strangers.

Ian wondered if he had done the right things in his life, did he make the right choices with the kids.  We talked about that most peoples life don't go exactly as planned.  We thought good morals were stressed through the whole book, and family values.  Would the grandparents have kept the kids if they didn't have Ian?  Was he a hero?  Was he a Saint?  Maybe.

Did we like how the book ended?  We didn't get the happily ever after.  We felt he was helping in someone else's life, becoming a dad again, sacrificing life again. 

Footnote:  Agatha eventually married, became an oncologist, still taking care of people.  Thomas, the middle child, Monica found out in the search of the book, was a software programmer inventing children's games.