Part love story, part history, the debut novel traces the youthful friendship between Henry, a first generation Chinese-American boy, and Keiko, a second generation Japanese- American girl. The story begins in Seattle in 1942, months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when the two meet as outcasts in an “all white” school. Friendship blossoms into adolescent love that struggles to survive both the government’s internment of the Japanese and the rabid hatred for the Japanese nurtured by Henry’s nationalistic father.
For Henry, the bitter and sweet memories of the past resurface in 1986 when the long-vacant Panama Hotel is reopened and the new owners discover a basement crammed with the personal belongings of Japanese families that were forced to move four decades earlier. Recently widowed, Henry enters the dusty and damp dungeon determined to find some trace of his childhood sweetheart. As the scenes jump back and forth from the 40s to the 80s, Henry is forced to consider the legitimacy of the decisions he’s made and to try and resolve the conflicts he faces with his own young adult son.
The New York Times best selling book is an easy read that offers a number of surprises and a supporting cast of two special characters, one a street jazz musician and other a crusty lunch room matron who has her own way of dealing with the world. The Panama Hotel itself is very real and displays archives from the long-forgotten basement store rooms.