Length: 256 pages
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Source: TLC Book Tours / NetGalley
From the publisher:
Based on traditional Vietnamese ghost stories told to the author by her Vietnamese grandmother but updated to reflect the contemporary ghost of the Vietnam War, here is a mesmerizing collection of thematically linked stories, united by the first and last story of the collection.
Violet wrote these unusually accomplished stories as an undergraduate at Mt. Holyoke College in an attempt to update the traditional Vietnamese ghost stories her grandmother had told her to incorporate the more relevant ghosts of the aftermath of the Vietnam War on a generation of displaced Vietnamese immigrants as well as those who remained in Vietnam. From the story about a beautiful young woman who shows up thirsty in the bathtub of the Frangipani Hotel in Saigon many years after her first sighting there to a young woman in Houston who befriends an old Vietnamese man she discovers naked behind a dumpster to a truck driver asked to drive a young man with an unnamed ailment home to die, to the story of two American sisters sent to Vietnam to visit their elderly grandmother who is not what she appears to be, these stories blend the old world with the new while providing a new angle of insight into the after-effects of the war.
Here’s what I thought:
I have a particular weakness for short story collections and this one intrigued me, being influenced by the author’s Vietnamese cultural background. The stories blend elements of traditional Vietnamese ghost stories with more modern settings and characters. It presents a view of the country and its people which is interesting and unique in my reading experience.
For some reason I had gotten it into my head that these stories were inspired by Vietnamese folk tales, but that is not really the case–they are definitely more ghost or even horror stories, as the characters that are dredged from the past into the present are often quite horrific. From beautiful, man-eating women to teenagers who literally suck the life out of someone (I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere), each story in the book includes a menacing element–a monster from the deep, if you will–that interacts with the story’s characters in such a way that the threat they represent remains undetected until the vital moment.
I enjoyed the deeper thematic undertones of what are otherwise fairly straightforward stories. Kupersmith is giving the reader a glimpse of the demons that lie in a country’s past, the complicated ways in which history continues to intrude upon the present. Even though the war and the circumstances which surrounded it are only alluded to in rather indirect ways in the book, it is a presence which can be felt and demands to be recognized. The characters in Kupersmith’s stories include, quite literally, the ghosts of the past which cannot be laid to rest.
The writing style is very readable, although I didn’t care for the first person narration of most of the stories and felt that they were lacking in something–a certain sense of atmosphere, maybe. Still, The Frangipani Hotel is an interesting collection and recommended to anyone who likes ghost stories or short stories with a cultural perspective.
About the author:
Violet Kupersmith was born in rural Pennsylvania in 1989 and grew up outside of Philadelphia. Her father is American and her mother is a former boat refugee from Vietnam. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2011 and then spent a year in Vietnam on a Fulbright teaching fellowship.
Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book and giving me a chance to share my review.