What I’m Reading Wednesday

18 Jun

It’s been a few years since I read Jamie Ford’s debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which became a book I often recommend to book clubs or anyone looking for recommendations.

WilllowThe novel takes place in WWII-era Seattle and centers around a hotel that exists today. The historic Panama Hotel contains the last remaining Japanese bathhouse in the United States. A group of my friends tried to make a day trip to Seattle to tour the hotel and have some tea a few years ago, but it has yet to happen. We have since revisited this topic (hopefully you’ll see a post soon about said tour).

Four years later Ford released his second novel, Songs of Willow Frost, which also takes place in Seattle and includes scenes in Tacoma (253!), with a mention of Camp Lewis. It’s a work of fiction, but includes many historical landmarks, including the Wah Mee Club in Seattle, which is where Ford’s grandparents met as mentioned in the author’s notes.

Songs of Willow Frost centers around two characters: William, a 12-year-old Chinese-American orphan trying to piece together his past based on vague memories of his mother, and Willow (Liu Song), William’s mother, a young, talented woman who desperately tries to move on from a tragic past but is haunted by her misfortune.

The Reader’s Guide includes the question “Overall, do you think the story is one of hope and promise or suffering and sacrifice?” I mention this because for the majority of the novel it’s hard to find any glimmer of hope following the stories of a lonely mother and son, separated by circumstance and kept apart partly because of prejudice and old-world traditions.

This novel takes place during the 1920s-30s and includes a lot about the theater and movie scene in the Seattle-area with historical mentions of Chinese-American movie stars.

Ford is the great-grandson of Nevada mining pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated from Kaiping, China to San Francisco in 1865. Ford grew up near Seattle’s Chinatown and his research and knowledge of the area is much appreciated by this Pacific Northwest reader.

Songs of Willow Frost is often times hard to get through, with so much heartache, pain and grief; but if you can make it to the last three pages, the reader’s sorrow is worth it in the end. I promise.

Who is your favorite local author?

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