Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Ice Cubes Melt
Now that I've got you all settled into the notion that my life has become some fairy-tale-worthy amalgamation of a Spice Girls music video and a tampon commercial, prepare for the pain, because this book packs a certain emotional "one-two" that left me reeling. Maybe it's because I'm a born-and-bred American living in a new century, one who grew up almost without the concept of skin color as a friendship barrier, or maybe it was the fact that this novel is set majorly within the very limits of the city I now call home. Whatever it was that left me sprawled across the study room couch, fighting back tears, it's not fading terribly fast. Not when I remember having walked across some of the very pavement on which such atrocities were committed.
I knew about the evacuation from the West Coast, and the Japanese internment camps during WWII, because our teachers glossed over what bare bits of it we discussed about our WA state history, all the way back to the first grade. When you stand by the bridge near the Japanese Pagoda at Point Defiance at night, so I was told in whispers, behind the wooden shed on our Montessori-school playground, you can hear the quick patter of ghostly footsteps, of those fleeing, those who didn't want to be taken away. They were shot, and now, they'll be forever running. Grave and sinister, for someone so young, but we did what we could to understand that which we couldn't understand, subjecting it simply to the stuff of ghost stories, and moving on (completely dismissing the fact that the Park, and the Pagoda, are definitely closed to the public at night). I grew up side-by-side with those kids, whose parents spoke a different language, liked different foods, dressed a different way, or prayed to a different God, and it was never a problem. We weren't bred to war, so we simply couldn't comprehend. These weren't things we were taught in Molly's American Girl series. It wasn't until public school that I realized just how cruel people could be, and why no one in Tacoma ever wanted to talk about it.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford (Ballantine Books, 2009), is set halfway in the 1940s, when those unjust sanctions against Japanese Americans were enforced, and halfway in the 1980s, when the repercussions of those actions are still being felt, by Mr. Henry Lee, a recent widower with a tenuous relationship with his grad-school son, and leftover memories of a girl named Keiko Okabe. Throughout the novel, the threads unwind to find that Lee had deeper ties to her than his son ever knew, and his son comes to realize that his father was less like his father than he had previously thought. It's a beautiful and moving love story, set across the backdrop of two different timelines, where two different people can find an imperfect love in their own hostile nation, and still feel the effects of that love after all the smoke has cleared.
An imperfect novel as well, as the presence of some anachronisms within the story pointed out. But I'll let 'em slide (still less cringe-worthy writing than my Architecture textbook. Yikes).
Whatever the case, the true takeaway from this novel, for me, was the fact that I was already so familiar with the setting. I've been to the Puyallup Fairgrounds, I've seen where they keep the livestock. Imagining a family of four, trying to live within the bounds of one horse stall? Not pleasant, not easy. Now take this description:
"...the quaint town of Puyallup, a small farming community surrounded by lush acres of daffodils." (Pg 153).
Holy hell. I'm a Daffodil Princess. Our HQ is in Puyallup. We're the Daffodil Princesses BECAUSE of that agriculture in the Puyallup Valley. This is all within a half hour of my house! Oh my gosh! (Describing my train of thought, here.) How horrifying is that? All of this kind of thing occurred within 50 miles (and about 60 years) of my doorstep! Not to mention Seattle... the entire reason my mom had me read this novel is because I'm now LIVING in Seattle as a student! She wants to have a field trip day with me, to go explore some of the real-life inspiration down in the international district, the streets named IN THIS BOOK.
I'm not sure what it would be like for those who DON'T live in this city I've grown to care so much about since the advent of higher learning, but for me, it really struck home. Literally. My appreciation for the history of where I came from, and where I am now, is ever-increasing. I love it when a novel can involve you so deeply, that you feel the need to do extra background work afterwards, almost like you don't want the story to end, so you need to find out more of its beginning. I'll definitely be on the lookout for more locally-set works now, and my interest in the racism of WWII isn't dying down either. Sure, awful, truly-terrible, no-good things happened here, in Seattle, but bad things happen everywhere. I'm still just learning to appreciate the past, and how it relates to where I am now. And this novel definitely helped.
Note: Look out for my favorite character, the son, and the quote of his from which this post title was taken. It's been ringing in my head since finishing the novel, and I don't know why. :)