Saturday, June 6, 2009

Lights, Camera -- Librarian!

By Pat Browning

For a rare treat, catch librarian Wendy Bartlett on WKYC’s "Good Company" program of June 3. It’s at

Wendy is Collection Development Coordinator of the Cuyahoga (Ohio) County Library, which has 37 branches. She has just started the library’s Good Company Book Club and the first selection for discussion is HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET by Jamie Ford. For Ohio residents who would like to take part in the discussion, web site is at

In the WKYC interview, Wendy notes that the story is of a forbidden love affair between a Chinese boy and a Japanese girl during World War II. The young author, who is of Chinese heritage, weaves his historical research into the story.

There’s quite a page devoted to the book at There’s a 14-page excerpt from the book, plus two videos under “Related Media.” In the first video, Jamie Ford Discusses His First Novel, Ford notes that the internment of Seattle Japanese-Americans drives the story. A button reading “I Am Chinese” is the iconic centerpiece.

In life, as in fiction, Japanese-Americans leaving for the camps stored their belongings in the old Panama Hotel. There the belongings stayed, virtually untouched, for more than 40 years. The hotel appears in the second video, Take a Tour Through 1940s Seattle. On the tour Jamie Ford points out locations that he used in his book.

On the Amazon page there’s also a 14-page excerpt from HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET. It begins:

Old Henry Lee stood transfixed by all the commotion at the Panama Hotel. What had started as a crowd of curious onlookers eyeballing a television news crew had now swollen into a polite mob of shoppers, tourists, and a few punk-looking street kids, all wondering what the big deal was. In the middle of the crowd stood Henry, shopping bags hanging at his side. He felt as if he were waking from a long forgotten dream. A dream he’d once had as a little boy.

The old Seattle landmark was a place he’d visited twice in his lifetime. First when he was only twelve years old, way back in 1942 -- “the war years” he liked to call them. Even then the old bachelor hotel had stood as a gateway between Seattle’s Chinatown and Nihonmachi, Japantown.

Two outposts of an old-world conflict -- where Chinese and Japanese immigrants rarely spoke to one another, while their American-born children often played kick the can in the streets together. The hotel had always been a perfect landmark. A perfect meeting place—where he’d once met the love of his life.
End quote.

Henry has recently retired from Boeing, and has lost his wife, Ethel, to cancer. With time on his hands, he frequently visits Ethel in the cemetery.

She now had a gorgeous view of Lake Washington, and was interred with Seattle’s other Chinese notables, like Bruce Lee and his own son, Brandon. But in the end, each of them occupied a solitary grave. Alone forever. It didn’t matter who your neighbors were. They didn’t talk back. When night fell, and it did, Henry chatted with his wife, asking her how her day was. She never replied, of course. “I’m not crazy or anything,” Henry would say to no one, “just open-minded. You never know who’s listening.”
End quote.

I did some quick research on internment camps and found an interesting list of assembly centers on the West Coast. This list is from the web site

FRESNO, CALIFORNIA: 5/6/42-10/30/42
Peak population: 5,120
Primary destination: Jerome, Arkansas; Gila River, Arizona
Peak population: 9,666
Primary destination: Jerome, Gila River
Peak population: 2,451
Primary destination: Tule Lake, California
MAYER, ARIZONA: 5/7/42-6/2/42
Peak population: 245
Primary destination: Poston, Arizona
MERCED, CALIFORNIA: 5/6/42-9/15/42
Peak population: 4,508
Primary destination: Granada, Colorado
PARKER DAM, ARIZONA: 5/8/42-5/31/42
Peak population: ll,738
Primary destination: Granada
PINEDALE, CALIFORNIA: 5/7/42-7/23-42
Peak population: 4,792
Primary destination: Tule Lake, Poston
POMONA, CALIFORNIA: 5/7/42-8/24/42
Peak population: 5,434
Primary destination: Heart Mtn., Wyoming
PORTLAND, OREGON: 5/2/42-9/10/42
Peak population: 3,676
Primary destination: Heart Mtn., Poston
PUYALLUP, WASHINGTON (also known as HARMONY CAMP): 4/28/42-5/6/42
Peak population: 7,390
Primary destination: Tule Lake; Minidoka, Idaho
Peak population: 4,739
Primary destination: Tule Lake
SALINAS, CALIFORNIA: 4/27/42-7/4/42
Peak population: 3,594
Primary destination: Poston
SANTA ANITA, CALIFORNIA: 3/27/42-10/27/42
Peak population: 18,719
Primary destination: Poston, six others
STOCKTON, CALIFORNIA: 5/10/42-10/17/42
Peak population: 4,271
Primary destination: Rohwer, Arkansas; Gila River
TANFORAN, CALIFORNIA: 4/28/42-10/13/42
Peak population: 7,816
Primary destination: Topaz, Utah
TULARE, CALIFORNIA: 4/20/42-9/4/42
Peak population: 4,978
Primary destination: Gila River
TURLOCK, CALIFORNIA: 4/30/42-8/12/42
Peak population: 3,662
Primary destination: Gila River

The Dark Childe website is fascinating. The graphics are exquisite. Subjects range from beading to pulp magazines to Cagney and Lacey. Under Book Reviews you’ll find many links to the internment of Japanese-Americans, and many links to World War II, Pacific Theater.

Purely personal note: Living in California's Central Valley for so many years made me aware of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Many of the Valley's Japanese were farmers. In some cases, neighbors tended their farms until they could return. In some cases, others moved in and confiscated the farms.

During all the years I worked in downtown Hanford, California, I spent my lunch hour every Friday having my hair done by Ruth, who had been released from her camp to attend beauty college in Chicago. Her husband, Tom, had been released from his camp to join the 442nd "Go For Broke" regiment in Europe. When I knew them, Tom worked for the county employment office.

Two more congenial people I have never met. I have fond memories of a couple who knew how to make lemonade from lemons.


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Terrific article, Pat.

Our Wendy is quite the star, huh?!!!

The book sounds fascinating, and this is a subject I am woefully ignorant about. So. One more book to add to the TBR tower.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Fascinating subject. Having also lived in Hanford for years, I was aware of Japanese internment. When I moved to Wyoming, I learned that Heart Mountain in the northern part of the state was also a Japanese internment camp. And in Douglas, Wyoming, a German prisoner of war camp existed. Some of those prisoners became citizens here after the war.

The Heart Mountain Foundation was established to memorialize and educate the public about the significance of the historical events surrounding the illegal internment of Japanese Americans at the relocation center near Powell.

Ken Lewis said...

Pat: Fascinating stuff! I lived in Seattle years ago and used to roam around China Town now and then, but I had no idea of the conflict between the two races during the war. I am going to Amazon next to take that video tour you mentioned featuring the Panama Hotel. By the way, this book is currently #8 on the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association list this week and was in the #1 spot for a few weeks in March.

Helen Ginger said...

A very interesting subject and it sounds like an interesting book, as well. I don't know a lot about this period - only bits and pieces you see on the news. I think it's great that this book is out.

Straight From Hel

Chester Campbell said...

Living in the South, I didn't hear much about such things at the time. Subsequently, I've been amazed at how greed (from competing farmers) and public hysteria could deprive 120,000 people, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens, of all their basic rights. The scary part is the Supreme Court upheld it.

Anonymous said...

When I was typing up the list of assembly centers, I kept thinking of all the detailed concentration camp records kept by the Nazis during that war.

The stories behind the story are awful. I knew one woman who said she would always hate the State of Arkansas, simply because her camp was located there.

Anonymous said...

The Heart Mountain Foundation is one of the few memorials. The Japanese moved on with their lives after the war and I suppose nobody else wanted to remember that shamefui episode.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't Wendy look great? I'm grateful to her for stirring up old memories with her promotion of this book.

Anonymous said...

I hope you've taken the 1940s Seattle tour. I'm amazed at how many of those places are still standing.
It's good that the book is turning attention to an almost forgotten part of our history, cultural and military.

Anonymous said...

I just put up The Secret War, the other part of the Japanese-American experience during WW2.
Thanks for stopping by.