Connecting with the author
TESL Lab students get the chance to ask author Jamie Ford questions about his novel over a Skype videochat.
Photo by Caroline Hong
By Caroline Hong
On March 21, TESL Lab students, along with their teachers, visited the library classroom to share a Skype conversation with Jamie Ford, the author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. The best-selling novel tells the story of a Chinese boy and a Japanese girl during the period of Japanese internment during World War II. The story jumps between the 1940s and the 1980s. The mixture of historical and literary importance of the book initially drove teachers to assign it to their classes.
Mrs. Susan Dorkings, Study Skills department head and TESL Lab teacher, said, “Ms. Good and I read and enjoyed the novel years ago, and we both thought it might be a perfect novel for our students.”
Ms. Kim Blache agreed and assigned the novel to two of her Study Center students. She said, “There are so many different parts of the novel that could interest a reader—love, the history, or figurative language.”
Although it was not initially planned for the class to Skype with the author, after coming across the “chat with the author” link on Ford’s website, Mrs. Dorkings and Ms. Blache decided that participating in a conference call with Jamie Ford would be a great experience for the class. The students, however, suggested that the class use Skype instead so that they could talk to the author face-to-face. “With the help of Ms. Scheinberg and Mr. Reader, we all enjoyed a remarkable experience,” said Mrs. Dorkings.
During the interview, students were able to ask many questions that would otherwise have remained unanswered. Junior Jennie Chiu asked Ford about the ending of the novel: “The ending is almost like a cliffhanger. I asked him what he thinks the ending really is. Do the protagonists end up together? Do they end up friends? Do they end up as more? What happens?”
Ford replied that he did not have an ending and explained, “Each of us has our own ending, and that’s real. There probably won’t be a sequel because the endings my readers come up with are probably better than anything I could write. By the end of the novel, the story belongs to the reader.”
When one student asked Ford about the possibility of adapting his novel into a movie, Ms. Blache recalls Ford discussing how there have been many strange offers that propose changing the Chinese character into a white character. Ford has declined all these offers explaining that, “It would change the entire book.” The reason for the proposed change is that there are not many prominent young Chinese actors, and they want a famous face so the movie will make more money. Junior Cherry Ho and Chiu both readily agreed that changing Henry, the Chinese character, would change the entire message.
The interview helped students understand and appreciate the purpose of the work, according to Ho. “When I read the book, I really loved his topic, the conflict, but after I met the author, I understood his personality much more; I understand why he wrote the book.”