Book: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

"Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet"

In 1986, Henry Lee joins a crowd outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has discovered the belongings of Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during World War II. As the owner displays and unfurls a Japanese parasol, Henry, a Chinese American, remembers a young Japanese American girl from his childhood in the 1940s–Keiko Okabe, with whom he forged a bond of friendship and innocent loe that transcended the prejudices of their Old World ancestors. After Keiko and her family were evacuated to the internment camps, she and Henry could only hope that their promise to each other would be kept. Now, forty years later, Henry explores the hotel’s basement for the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot even begin to measure. His search will take him on a journey to revisit the sacrifices he has made for family, for love, for country.

I sought this book out because of the title. I didn’t really know anything about it, except that it was about Asian Americans during the second world war–and that it’s a love story of sorts. But there was something about the title that told me I need to find a copy of the book… and I couldn’t find it anywhere locally. So I had it special-ordered through Fully Booked.

Honestly, the book starts very slowly. The only thing that pushed me to keep reading was the fact that I already invested so much time in getting a copy, that it would be a great waste if I stop reading. And I’m very grateful that it took me time to find the book, and that it took me time to get into the groove of the story.

Time made Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet all the more satisfying in the end.

Author Jamie Ford doesn’t rush anything: from the introduction of the characters, the way they develop, to the relationships they form. And while this pace was frustrating at first, it ultimately works best for the story he’s telling. Because Hotel on the Corner of Bitter Sweet is a love story that spans years. Heck, even the love story takes time to develop.

Henry, our main character, doesn’t see his love interest as one for most of the book. He sees her as a friend. And as his feelings for her develop, so does ours. Personally, my appreciation for the narrative grew just as Henry’s world expanded within the book. Author Ford begins the story with a very narrow window into Henry Lee’s life–and it’s probably the reason why the first part of the novel is so exhausting to read. Because our point-of-view is limited; we’re boxed in with Henry, and we’re yearning to get out. But we can’t go out until we get to know who Henry is, who the people in his life are. Because we need to understand him, and the people who are important to him, to understand the things he will do.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a beautiful story that’s not just about the love between races in the time of war; but also a powerful love story of a boy to the parents who he no longer understands, and to the son he doesn’t know as much as he would like.

And to end, I say: find a copy of the book. Take the time to read it. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is worth the effort.

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Book: BGMBYN Act 1

"BGMBYN"

AR-1896, Spain. For an empire whose fleets link oceans, whose armies bridge continents, and whose faith binds nations to a common will – the Philippine insurgency, is but a cloud within “The Empire of the Eternal Sun.”

Aimless. Transient. Futile

…yet clouds, hold storms.

1896: Bagumbayan – explores an alternate reality where thieves become soldiers, soldiers become heroes. And a people, become a nation.

I picked this book up a few Komikons ago. It was one of the purchases I immediately started reading as soon as I got home, but work and life conspired to stop me from writing about it. Until now.

To be completely honest, I’m not a fan of how the book synopsis was written. Having read the book twice now, the synopsis doesn’t really sell the story inside. It gives you a vague idea of what to expect: an alternate reality, yes. But other than that? Thieves became soldiers in our reality. They even became heroes. As did the soldiers who believed in our future. We became a nation in this reality, no matter how tattered we have become since. So what sets the book apart from our world and our history? What makes it an alternative?

Author Redge Tolentino masterfully recreates a history that did not happen; reading BGMBYN feels like you’re reading information that really happened–and yet also know that it didn’t. The settings and characters he uses are familiar enough that it feels like we know where the story has come from and where it is going, until we don’t.

And, trust me. We really don’t.

It’s one of the more promising independently-produced book I’ve read in recent years. Like Naermyth before it, BGMBYN creates a Philippines that is fundamentally different yet feels the same; populated with characters that we are already familiar with–not because we’ve seen them before, but because we know their pain, their joy, and their dreams.

The story situates us immediately in the middle of conflict, allowing the characters’ actions define who they are. Trusting us, the readers, to pick up on what is happening through stock knowledge of Philippine history. It reveals differences not to twist the plot, but to define what sets this story apart.

BGMBYN is a story that yearns to be read. I just hope the sequel comes out before interest on the book dissipates.

Book: Tabi Po, Isyu 2

"Tabi Po, Isyu 2"

When I read Tabi Po the first time, I was amazed by the art that I didn’t really give the story a lot of thought. The story entertained me, and made me think–and that was enough because the drawing and the colors evoked emotions–and horror–splendidly.

But I don’t think it will be fair for the second issue of Tabi Po for me to continue waxing poetics about the art. Especially since this time, we finally see that the story does plan on going somewhere; and the destination looks good.

In “Isyu 2” of the series, we don’t immediately start with Elias–the main character we met in the previous issue. Instead, we are introduced to a different monster; a monster familiar to a lot of people, whether they believe in the supernatural or not. And, for the first time, we get to see Elias as something other than just an Aswang.

Elias continues to be a monster, but he is not THE monster in this story. That role falls to new characters who are a little familiar to anyone who has had to read Jose Rizal’s works: Pade Damaso, Padre Salvi, and even Quiroga. Characters from Noli Me Tangere.

Now, I don’t know what writer/artist Malonzo’s reasons were in deciding to use these characters, but it does ground the story in a very specific timeline–with a very specific political air. And putting the three Aswang we got to know in the first issue smack dab into a familiar tale, is very intriguing for me. Especially since they’re starting to have different views on how they should survive–without turning their backs to who they really are.

I am definitely very curious to see where Malonzo takes this story from here, but I’m sure that the road there will be very interesting.

Book: Maktan 1521

"Maktan 1521"

Ano ba itong mga Kastila? Espanya? Kristiyanismo? Bakit tayo ang kailangang magbigay-alay sa kanila? Wala silang karapatan dito sa ating isla dahil atin ito. Itinayo pa ng ating mga ninuno para sa atin at hindi para sa mga dayuhan.

Any kind of history is revisionist; with winners dictating how they are colored, with how they are preserved. How does that line from that one Wicked song go? “It’s all in which label is able to persist.” So if you think about it, historical fiction as a genre actually applies to the history lessons they teach at school. They just drop the ‘fiction’ part.

Well, in Tepai Pascual’s Maktan 1521, the artist does not pretend that this version of history is completely accurate–even though it has historical data to back it up. That’s because she has already added elements to the story that is based on speculation–and in trying to make logical sense of what had happened, and how things played out. And I’m glad that artist Pascual didn’t attempt a blow-by-blow account of what had happened. I liked that she gave the story her own spin–Maktan 1521 works because she made the characters relatable. She made them into people–and not just names on the pages of a history book.

This being a graphic novel, I feel like I should write about the art as well. But I’m not an artist, and I won’t pretend to know the first thing about art. For me, as a reader, the art did its job. It got the story’s points across, and that’s all that matters.

I do, however, want to point out that some of the colors are too dark. I don’t know if it’s because of the printing, or if the panels were painted that way. What I do know is that there were sequences that I had to go over a few times to understand what was happening, because the colors were too dark and I didn’t really know what I was supposed to be on the look out for. But hey, maybe it was the printing. Maybe Visprint made the colors too dark and the colors bled.

Whatever the reason, I hope that in future reprints, the art is made a little sharper.

Yes, future reprints. I did say that. Because Maktan 1521 is something I want to succeed. I want it to sell all of its copies, requiring Visprint to have a second printing, and a third one, and a fourth one. Because these are the types of Filipino books that I want to become popular, to become bestsellers, to have more kinds of.

Let’s make Maktan 1521 successful so we can have more books like this… Books with substance.

So, if you’re reading this and you don’t have a copy yet, please go out and buy yourself one.

Support local books with quality and value.