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WI Book Group

January 2014

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

The story of Henry Lee was a popular choice with our members. The Panama Hotel has always occupied a landmark position, standing on the boundary of the Chinese and Japanese neighbourhoods in 1940’s Seattle. When in 1986 personal belongings stored away by Japanese families sent to internment camps during the second world war are discovered in the hotel basement, Henry’s childhood memories and his love for his friend Keiko Okabe are re-awakened. Henry and Keiko became friends working in the kitchens of their all American school. The streets of Seattle are brought vividly to life as we see the pair spending time together sneaking into a jazz club, sketching in the park and chatting with Henry’s jazz-playing friend Sheldon. A complicated mix of cultures unfolds – Henry  obediently wearing  his ‘I am Chinese’ badge whilst becoming steadily more defiant of his father’s ingrained hatred of Japan; Keiko proudly declaring ‘I am an American’ even as she is refused service in a department store and her family are about to be rounded up and imprisoned. A fascinating enforced language barrier further complicates things for Henry – he is forbidden to speak Mandarin at home but his father cannot speak English, making communication impossible and leading to a clever and comic scene when Henry deliberately mistranslates in order to destroy his father’s anti-Japanese business deal. Most of us in the group were unaware of the imprisonment of American citizens of Japanese descent during the Second World War so we found this book a fascinating insight. A sweet but not sentimental story of young love and lively jazz music set against a bitter background of racism bred by fear and suspicion.

 

IN TEARING HASTE – letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor

The WI Book Club read this book recently. The letters were written between the two friends from 1954 and 2007. Most of the group enjoyed the book describing life in the upper echelons of British society and their friends ranged from the Mitford sisters to the Kennedy’s to the Royal family. Life moved from Chatsworth to Lismore Castle in Eire and other castles/houses around Europe.The letters cover the time from when Chatsworth was inherited and developed into the attraction it is now and what happened in their life and circle. Patrick Leigh Fermor had strong connections with Greece from his wartime experience and descriptions of his life and travel adventures were particularly enjoyed. The privileged lifestyle described, the personal nicknames and in jokes of a close group of upper class people were the reasons some members found the letters of little interest.