I hope everyone wrapped up the book this weekend and loved the ending as much as I did! The part that I knew was coming all along finally came: Keiko and Henry reunite. But first things first. The author of the book, Jamie Ford, has graciously agreed to answer a selection of our questions about the story. Feel free to ask away. Before I dive into my thoughts on the third leg of the book, I’ll ask Jamie my questions:
• I’ve seen critics call your story a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. What inspired you to write this romantic tragedy?
• What possessed you to not have Henry pursue Keiko more when he was young? I can’t help but think that he might have “settled” with Ethel without a hard fight.
• At first, I couldn’t believe that Henry and Keiko’s relationship was so intense for how young they were. How did you decide on their ages and did you ever think that centering the story on older teens might have created more drama and romance?
Those are the biggest questions I found myself asking once finished. Make sure to ask yours, too! Now on to the discussion:
When we last left off, Keiko was still at Camp Harmony, Henry had yet to visit her at her new Idaho base, and they still had not really showed their love for each other. Henry develops a lot of maturity in this last section. He grows up physically, yes, but also emotionally. As his youthful character, he has to see his father suffer from a stroke, say good-bye (possibly forever) to the love of his life, and give in to the idea of finishing his schooling in Canton, China. Talk about change!
As much as I did believe in the relationship between Henry and Keiko, I enjoyed how the author introduced Ethel into the story. I sensed the mail clerk was going to reenter the story somehow, since she was pretty enthralled by Henry’s determination to stay in touch with Keiko, and it was sweet that she ended up being his new love. The fact that Henry proposed to Ethel on the day the Japanese surrendered was significant. He finally was able to release the worry and angst over Keiko and rest assured that she would be in a better place. He clearly was still in love with her, but his happiness for her people enabled him to move on and accept that she could move on, too.
One thing I rarely do while reading is consider the book’s title. I am usually too caught up in the pages and forget to reflect on what the title means for the book. Not the case with this pick. I was constantly weighing how bitter and how sweet Henry’s entire life was. His relationships—whether with his bullies, family, or lovers (both Keiko and Ethel)—all contain a bittersweet element. I was happy to see Henry’s father proud of Henry and his new (Chinese) love, Ethel, while on his death bed, but then that newfound happiness turned bitter when Henry’s father admitted that he had a doing in preventing Henry’s letters from reaching Keiko. Did anyone suspect this was the case all along? I certainly didn’t. What would have happened between Keiko and Henry had their correspondence stayed regular? You can’t help but wonder.
The ending of the story was the best. I was thrilled to see Keiko and Henry reunite, even if it was 40-plus years after their first kiss. Her having the Oscar Holden record safe and sound after all these years was a real treat, too, and I am sure it meant so much to Sheldon in his final days. Although I typically want less of a hook of an ending, and a more complete finish, this ending wasn’t bitter at all, just sweet, and therefore left me totally content. In my mind, Keiko and Henry are now together and have reached a point in their lives where they can explore what could have been decades earlier. What path do you think their relationship will take? Are you relieved that he went to Keiko in New York?
I hope everyone enjoyed this read. I did!—Lindsay
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