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Book Club Check-in: What does 'home' mean to us?

caption: The KUOW Book Club is kicking off with Jamie Ford's "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet." Photos courtesy of Canva.
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The KUOW Book Club is kicking off with Jamie Ford's "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet." Photos courtesy of Canva.
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This is KUOW's book club, and we’re checking in as we read Ford’s "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet." I'm your club guide Katie Campbell. We’re nearing the end of this incredible historical fiction novel. It’s been a wild ride so far, hasn't it?

I could dwell on any number of themes in this, our third check-in for this book — from the role of women in this story to the end of childhood, when the world is falling apart around youth.

(If you're reading along, you should have read through the chapter titled "Thirteen." You can find the reading schedule here.)

But what I want to talk most about today is the concept of "home." In the chunk we've just finished reading, a lot has changed. Keiko and her family are incarcerated with other Japanese families far from their homes in Seattle.

I want to share some of what our fellow readers were thinking about as they read. (You can get my analysis in our book club newsletter. Subscribe here.)

Becky wrote me a long, thoughtful list of questions for the author, which were informed by her perspective as a long-time Seattleite. Here's some of what she shared, edited a bit for length and clarity:

I was born on Capitol Hill in Seattle in 1967, and both my parents were born in Seattle as well, in the mid-late 1940's. This means both sets of my grandparents were here during the timeframe of the novel, and my parents were growing up a little behind the times that Henry was. ... I am certain the descriptions of the Japanese families being forced off Bainbridge Island and on trains at King Street Station was, clearly, based on real events. But for instance, was the police raid on a jazz club, where people were targeted and hauled away, also based on actual events? Was that kind of thing common at the time? ... I have to say how disappointing and heartbreaking, embarrassing and shameful it feels to me (as a white person who was raised here) how little about this I had learned about this history prior to reading this story. That I never had talked to my grandparents about it before they died is upsetting to me now.

I identify with Becky's feeling of embarrassment and shame. I'm originally from Florida, and I recall being taught very little about the Japanese incarceration in school. I, like Becky, found myself frequently googling details from the book to see if, for example, large military vehicles really did drive down the streets of Seattle. It's an awful image, one that must have been all the more unbelievable as it happened.

I also heard from Priscilla, who started with an admission:

I read to the end... didn't want to put the book down most nights though my eyes were getting tired. I loved the portrayal of Henry in which his youthful attitude remained unspoiled, unprejudiced despite his father's beliefs, allowing him to be open to considering Keiko as a friend (even more!) based on his experience of her. Not all children of opinionated and prejudiced parents carry this off (e.g., Chaz). ... Jamie [Ford] let us experience Henry as a complex character, which was very satisfying.

I could not agree with Priscilla more here; part of what makes Ford's novel so powerful is his characters and their perfect imperfectness. More than once, I found myself jotting notes about how Henry was frustrating me, especially when he's more timid about standing up for Keiko and her community. But he's a kid! Of course, he would be timid. Though fictional, he is living through a dangerous and scary time in our nation's history. His internal battles with everything that means for him feel real, and make his story all the more captivating.

Thank you to everyone who wrote in this time around.

We'll be wrapping up "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" soon. If you're reading along with the club, finish the book by May 20, and come back here to catch my interview with Ford. I'll be including some of your questions, so don't forget to send me your thoughts before then.

(Plus, I'll be announcing our next book on May 27.)

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