Published by Ballantine Books on January 27th 2009
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Set in Seattle during the Japanese internment during WW2. This book has a sweeping feel to it. It starts out slow – but not slow in the sense who feel like you are waiting for paint to dry – but slow in the “This is really going somewhere” kind of way. It does go somewhere by the way. Once the ball gets rolling, this book sweeps you up into the lives of two friends who made a promise to see each other again.
The book begins as Henry Lee stands in front of the Panama Hotel. This hotel has been boarded up for years but a new owner has discovered something inside – the belongings of Japanese families. Their possessions that were left behind when they were rounded up and taken to internment camps. As he stands watching, a simple act happens…the owner opens up a Japanese parasol. This act takes him back. We have all experienced this. A scent, a food, a location, a sound can take us back to our youth, or to the home of a loved one.
For Henry Lee, the open parasol takes him back to the 1940s. Henry is raised by a father who wants his Chinese son to be an “American” at all costs. Henry through a “Scholarship” is sent to school where the “American/White” kids ignore him. But there is one person who does not ignore him and that it a young Japanese girl named Keiko. They form a friendship. A type of young love if you will. Sweet and innocent. But then Keiko and her family are rounded up and she is whisked away.
Henry wonders “Is this her Parasol?” Could more of her families belongings be inside? Can he come to terms with what happened so long ago? Can he rebuild her relationship with his son?
I thought this book was really good. Such a great book club book. So many discussions to be had. There are elements of friendship, love, loss, betrayal, longing, guilt, loneliness, etc.