Published by Spiegel & Grau on 2013
Genres: Short Stories (single author), War & Military
Source: Spiegl & Grau
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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.
I received this book for free from Spiegl & Grau in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I’m a fan of short stories. I think I say that at least once a month when reviewing books, but it still sometimes amazes me – because back in the day I couldn’t stand them. A good short story, in my opinion, is like a snapshot of time and in that snapshot, gives the reader a good sense of what happened before and after. In a way, The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith does that, but in some ways, it does not.
First, Kupersmith does a beautiful job of putting pen to paper and communicating the history of the Vietnamese people as connected to the Vietnam war. The idea is inspired, using older ghost stories and updating them to show a stunning, if a bit bleak at times, “snapshot” of those terrifying years. But what it felt like, in parts, was also like I was sitting in one of my advanced creative writing courses at school and reading the stories there. I think it was a lack of polish? Or maybe just that the first story, with its reference to “Grandmother” and the dialog between the 1st person narrator and his/her grandmother, just did not work at all for me. Unfortunately, that was just the first story and since it held that prized position, it set the tone of the entire book for me.
However, Kupersmith showed some fantastic humor and a deft writing style with some of the great sentences scattered throughout the stories. I remember in class hearing about lines that just worked hard, i.e. “Swanky name, shitty place” as describing the hotel named in the title. With just a few simple words, Kupersmith is able to convey the erstwhile glory (or want-to-be glory?) of the place while embracing what it is when one takes off the rose-colored glasses.
I still rate The Frangipani Hotel high, however, because of its uniqueness. I’ve not read or experienced stories written like this before and I enjoyed the exposure to older ghost stories as well as the education of what it would have been like to be on the other side of the Vietnam war. I’d recommend this book as interesting reading for a book club – it would make for some great discussion.
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.