Again, nothing would make me happier than seeing Tokyopop resume Hee Jung Park’s series, specifically this and Martin and John. This was one of the most unique series that came out last year, in its own subdued way. I enjoy the framing devices used, the two different times and places its set in, and how you need to consider the feelings of all characters involved at both ends of the time periods in the story.
In case you’re not familiar with Hotel Africa… it’s difficult to explain, but I believe the series is set in the present, with most stories starting with situations that arise around Elvis, the main character, his roommate Ed, their friend Jul, and one or two other people. The situations are usually not very serious, and can be anything from a haircut to pet-sitting, whatever. Just common, everyday things. These trigger Elvis’s memory, and he tells stories about growing up at his mother’s hotel, Hotel Africa, in Utah. These memories are the bulk of the volume.
My favorite story in the volume was probably the one about Hillie, the dog Elvis took care of for that sad old man. That was a sad story in general, and as much as I hate to admit it, it almost made me cry when I read it on the bus. It’s really well-told, and it’s one of those “After School Special”-type stories where Elvis learns what death and to say goodbye means at a young age. Though it’s weird that he knows the dog is dead, but his mother doesn’t bother to tell him about the dog’s owner. The whole thing with the owner coming back for the dog was what did it for me, really.
I’m not sure what the next best one was after that. I did like the story that focused on the roommate Ed’s memories of his first love, which was also very tragic. I liked the slow way the relationship developed in that one, even if you could sort of see that the two of them would get together, and you could tell what Ian was going to do in the end, too. This story was only made better by the subsequent Ian chapter, which was an entirely visual representation of what went through Ian’s mind in the end.
There’s a bunch of other good stuff in here… a kind of weird one about a pair of lovers that I wasn’t clear on whether or not they were actual siblings or were just raised by the same person, one about Elvis changing his hairstyle, one about his mother’s friend coming back to the town and her life in the city (which was also quite good, now that I think about it, even though the character wasn’t sympathetic at all), and one about a blind boy and his mother that closed out the volume.
It’s the character development more than anything that does it for me. Very few of the stories are actually about Elvis and his mother and grandmother. Mostly they are all stories about the travelers passing through the hotel, their jorneys, and how their lives go from then on. It’s a really nice idea for a series, and like I said, it’s a true tragedy that we probably won’t get to see more. But who knows, maybe we’ll see a revival. Hee Jung Park’s series certainly deserve it more than a lot of the other series that were cancelled, I think.
I kind of wanted to have a hotel day and post Hotel Africa and Hotel Harbour View together, but I wound up posting the latter first and I wanted it on top for a day. I could have edited it so that this was the case, but I figured I’d just put off writing this one until today.
I also kind of put off reading this series for some reason. It was the most interesting-sounding of the Hee Jung Park series released by Tokyopop, plus it takes place in the United States, which always sort of fascinates me (I should probably read Banana Fish if I’m into that sort of thing, though). I was a little put off by the fact that I seem to remember the initial plot summary I read mentioning an Elvis impersonator, which sounded too cheesy to me. There’s one here (along with the main character being named Elvis), but he’s not actually alive for any part of the story, so I’m not sure why it was mentioned wherever I read it. No Elvis impersonators, though. Just some really wholesome stories about people and their relationships.
It was wonderful. The way the story is set up is that Elvis, the main character, lives in New York City with his roommate/boyfriend and their best friend, July. They’re struggling actors, and each of the chapters starts off with a short incident in their lives, then flashes back to Elvis’ childhood, when he lived with his mother and grandmother in Hotel Africa, a not-very-often-visited hotel in Utah. Sometimes the stories run for more than one chapter and you don’t get to see more of the present day, and some of the stories at the back of the volume are about July’s past, but for the most part, the short stories are about Elvis’s family and the guests in their hotel.
Most of what goes on at the hotel happens around Elvis instead of to him since he’s 4 years old for most of the flashbacks in this volume. His father passed away around the time he was born, so his mother is left alone. Shortly after their hotel opens, they get a permanent guest named Geo, a mysterious man who swears up and down he will marry Elvis’ mom. The first story deals with how Elvis’ parents met and also how Geo came to live with them. Another story deals with a friend of the Grandmother’s, and how one man expresses love for 30 years. One story is about how a pair of rough-looking bikers turn out to be a couple of nice guys when you feed them and give them a chance. One story is about a pair of girls who are dead-set on committing suicide on the cliff behind the hotel. You know, things like that.
They all have really powerful endings, usually happy, and they all ring pretty genuine in terms of emotion. Some of them are extremely bittersweet, and every single one of them is a good story. Even though there’s not a lot of information given about a lot of the characters, they still read really well, and you still feel for them when things happen. Usually the stuff isn’t too bad, but occasionally it will be heart-breaking, and the subject of death is dealt with a couple of times. Hell, I’ll admit one of the stories almost made me cry, and it dealt mostly with a character that only appeared in that chapter. But it was still a beautiful story.
I hate to make a comparison to Sand Chronicles, especially since I just compared something else to it not too long ago, but it’s the same sort of thing. Some of the lessons are for Elvis, and they’re the types of things one goes through in childhood, but a lot of the lessons are also for other people, and they’re the same types of things one goes through one’s entire life. Did I say they were great? Because, yes, they’re great.
I’ll caution you by saying I really like these types of stories. I’m not entirely convinced everyone should read this, and I can’t endorse it as heartily as, say, From Eroica with Love. But if you enjoy slice-of-life stories, you’ll like this. I promise, it’s great.