Posted by: billpurdue | June 14, 2012

A little known aspect of the Second World War

On this side of the Atlantic, when we think about the Second World War, we normally think about the theatre of war in Europe, but there is a recent novel which deals with aspects of the conflict as they affected the city of Seattle and its Chinese, Japanese and indigenous inhabitants: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford [Allison and Busby £7.99 9780749010720]

The story is set in two eras, 1942, when Henry Lee is 12 years old and 1986, shortly after his wife has died. Henry was born in Seattle of Chinese parents. The novel begins in 1986 when Henry finds that the new owner of the Panama Hotel in the city, which has been left derelict for many years, has discovered a large cache of personal belongings of Japanese people living in Seattle during the war. The Japanese were sent to internment camps and were forced to leave most of their belongings behind.

During the Second World War, for Americans on the West Coast, Japan was the main enemy. Henry’s parents are able to understand very little English. They send him to a local school with American children because they want him to learn English and it is here that he meets and forms a close friendship with Keiko. Keiko was born in Seattle, but her parents are Japanese. The Chinese have vivid memories of the invasion of China by the Japanese so he is unable to tell his parents of his new friendship.

After the loss of his wife in 1986, Henry’s memories of his wartime girlfriend are reawakened and with the help of his son Marty, he gains permission to explore the vaults of the hotel where the possessions the Japanese left behind were found. Henry is anxious to find a particular 78 rpm recording, which he gave to her all those years ago. He also wonders if he can find out what happened to her, indeed if she is still alive.

Jamie Ford’s book is basically the story of the friendship between Henry and Keiko, at school and later, when Keiko and her family are taken away by the authorities to internment camps away from the coast, because they are considered a threat to security. It’s a cleverly crafted and eloquently told story that had me captivated from a very early stage. In fact I would not have been surprised if I had found out later that the story were true as it was so convincing. It’s going to be one of my recommended reads for 2012.

Blott and Wilt

If the titles Porterhouse Blue, Blott on the Landscape and Riotous Assembly mean anything to you, then you will know that I’m referring to the author Tom Sharpe. The Wikipedia article describes him as an English satirical author, but however you might see him, he has certainly had a great deal of success, especially with his series about Henry Wilt.

The book I’ve recently read was first published in 1979. The Wilt Alternative[Arrow £7.95 978-0099466499] features the further adventures of college lecturer and henpecked husband, Henry Wilt. He and his family (wife and quadruplet girls) have just moved into a bigger house and the top floor is surplus to requirements, so his wife thinks it would be a good idea to let it as a separate flat. The trouble is the new tenant, apart from being very attractive in Henry’s eyes, turns out to be someone, along with her night time visitors, in whom the police and the anti-terrorist squad are very interested. Pandemonium ensues, but Henry somehow saves the day.

This is a typical late 1970s comic novel and is in some ways reminiscent of the TV series “Life on Mars’ – especially when it comes to the way the police behave. The cover, back and front, leave you in no doubt that this is a funny book, but the comments do seem a little exaggerated. Nevertheless, I did laugh quite a lot. One thing I wasn’t too keen on was the amount of strong language it contained – whilst a certain amount of bad language might be justified, I feel it could have been just as funny without it.

While I was looking up the publishing details for this “Wilt” book, I came across another funny book, which I’ll have to investigate further: Bruno Fenster Saves the World: And Still Has Time for Breakfast by Wolfgang Niesielski [iUniverse £9.95 978-1475905106]. It sounds like one to put on my humour list.


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