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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Bitter and Sweet Story, Aptly Named

Although I found our September 19, 2011 book, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford, to be a straightforward story with few mysteries; I had read that book clubs love the book, so I looked forward to the discussion. Our group discussion often produces new insights into our books. The book did receive a thumbs up from everyone who had read it. I found this book to be a delightful read, as did most of us!

This discussion seemed to veer quickly away from the details of the book to greater societal and historical truths. Although Phyllis began the discussion with a question about the relationship between Henry and his father in the story, the group did not delve into that question. Instead we talked about general and specific group racism and other prejudicial behavior, particularly in light of war and the fear that comes from war. The treatment of the Japanese by the American people and the government during the 1940s was engendered by fear. Japan was indeed an enemy of the United States, and with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor earned a reputation of being a dangerous and wily enemy. This then trickled down to the way Americans in the city saw all Japanese-Americans, even those who had been born and raised as Americans. Our discussion mostly focused on this situation and similar situations in history.

During WWII, German-Americans were also sent to camps in some cases, but those communities were not as dense and singular as the Japanese community in San Francisco, which is probably why their internment didn't become as famous. Someone mentioned that prejudice toward Japanese people was particularly easy to act on, because the Japanese look so much different from other Americans, as opposed to German-Americans. This led to some discussion about the differences among various Asian groups. German camps during the war in Colorado, Nevada, and California were not as well documented in history as the Japanese internment camps. Someone noted that the U.S. shipped German POWs to Texas and held them here during the war. German families had to lay low in Texas and probably throughout the Midwest during the war.

We had a mixture of opinions as to whether Henry's wife knew about or had a hand in Henry's father's request to intercept Henry's letters back and forth with Keiko. Some of us assumed that Ethel was at a lower level of the Post Office and never saw the letters; others figured that there were probably very few people working at the Post Office so that she probably did know about the interception. Regardless, her regard for Henry stemmed from his steadfast loyalty to Keiko.

We ended our discussion mentioning some of the ways that history is taught, and the prejudicial angles that are typically implied in textbooks. For example, what do the British children learn about the American Revolution? Most of us in our group are out of touch with what the current textbooks are teaching, but it seems they are edited to slant more toward what might be the current politically correct wishes as to what the truth had been, rather than the truth.

Patty mentioned that the Panama Hotel currently has a tourist area with a tearoom. You can ask for a tour to see the Japanese belongings that are still there and unclaimed.

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