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Kitsap Regional Library wants reading to be a social activity
Author Jamie Ford’s father grew up in a time of strong racial tensions in Seattle’s International District, when it was known by some as Chinatown, and others as Japantown.
In 1946, Ford’s father received a button from his father, printed with the words “I am Chinese,” to distinguish him from the Japanese kids who were often pelted with rocks by American kids following the memory of the Pearl Harbor attacks and World War II.
His father’s depiction of the scene inspired Ford, a 1986 South Kitsap High School graduate, to write a short story. The story evolved into his novel “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” this year’s selected book for the Kitsap Regional Library’s One Book, One Community project.
“It was like going back into Seattle in the 1940s, to relive the history of the streets and roads you have been on in the international district,” said Kathleen Thorne, adult programming coordinator with the Kitsap Regional Library. “It is history that is not really well known.”
Ford, 42, who now lives in Great Falls, Mont., will speak at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, at the North Kitsap Auditorium, located at 1881 N.E. Hostmark St. in Poulsbo. Events associated with the book will continue through the month of October.
“The idea behind the project is to encourage reading as more of a social, rather than isolated, act,” said Jeff Brody, spokesperson for the Kitsap Regional Library. “It encourages people to share the book and its experiences.”
As part of the annual project, now in its third year, the library will host Bainbridge Island filmmaker and Seattle historian Douglas Chin, who will present the 30-minute documentary “East Occidental: The History of Seattle’s International District” in county libraries throughout the month.
Seattle Times Jazz critic Paul deBarros will present the multimedia program “Jackson Street After Hours: The History of Seattle’s Jazz Scene,” showcasing another scene that plays a prominent role in Ford’s book.
The Bainbridge Island theater group, Island Theater, will perform “The Immigrant,” a play by Mark Harelik about a Russian Jew who immigrated to Hamilton, Texas, in 1909.
Similar to the tensions in the play, Ford said the tensions were amplified between Americans and the Chinese, who were more nationalistic after World World II, and the Japanese, who were quicker to assimilate. Similarly, especially in Asia, tensions between the Japanese and Chinese have not faded since the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and other events from the period.
“There is still that generation that holds on to that cultural baggage,” Ford said.
Ford’s book tracks a 50-year relationship between a Chinese boy and Japanese girl that expands on the themes, but the plot does not follow the story of his father. He spent six month researching the book, meeting with historians, reading old academic journals and watching films about the internment camps.
Ford previously focused on writing short stories. The book, released in early 2009, is his debut novel.
“You have to love the research. I could get lost in the research for months if I let myself,” Ford said. “It’s very archeological. You have to keep digging in the dirt and eventually you find a bone.”
The library’s project committee read more than a dozen books in preparation for the project, in search of a book that had “multigenerational interest, inspired good discussions and fostered programs along with it,” Brody said.
The two previous books were Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mocking Bird” and John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row.”
“It’s the first of the three that would not be on a high school reading list,” Brody said. “He’s not Tom Clancy or John Grisham or another writer everyone knows, but there’s something in it for everyone.”