Friday, May 30, 2014
The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith
Violet Kupersmith, the author of this compelling collection of short stories, is the daughter of an American father and a Vietnamese mother. Her mother's family came to the states in 1975 - one of many boat families escaping the horrors of the Vietnam War.
Like the author Karen Russell, Kupersmith weaves fantasy into realistic settings. The stories are a modern re-working of Vietnamese folktales - folktales told to her by her grandmother. Ghosts inhabit all of these tales. As she explains in the blog of the Huffington Post:
Vietnamese ghosts aren't that scary as long as you know what it is that they want. If it isn't staying dead then there's probably a reason, and all you have to do is give the ghost the thing that it's seeking - revenge, redemption, a resolution...(But) it's the ghost without a clear purpose that frightens me, and those are the ones who tend to populate the stories that I encountered during my solo travels around Vietnam after college.
Aimless ghosts likewise inhabit the stories in this collection. The title story, "The Frangipani Hotel," takes place in the historic hotel that still operates in downtown Hanoi. The narrator is a young woman whose grandfather owned the hotel and whose family still owns and runs it. The story employs wonderful humor and a thrilling ghost story into tightly woven prose.
In another story, "Skin and Bones," a single mother of two girls (Thuy and Kieu) decides to send them to visit their grandmother in Vietnam. Her hope is for her younger daughter, Thuy, to lose weight on the vegetable-rich diet. And, once the cookies and other junk food Thuy stashed in her suitcase are eaten, she does. But when she meets a mysterious old woman selling freshly baked bread, reality and nightmare become one.
These are but two of nine amazing short stories, each blending just the right mixture of levity and horror. Violet Kupersmith is a talented young writer - a voice of postwar Vietnam. At 24 years old, her stories embody compassion for the people forced to flee their homeland as well as for those left behind. She captures the loneliness of old age and the alienation of disaffected youth with clarity well beyond her years. Kupersmith's use of the supernatural imbues her stories with an added dimension that often highlights Vietnam's tragic past.
The Frangipani Hotel is a stellar first collection by a most promising new author.
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