Monday, July 7, 2014

The Frangipani Hotel: Fiction

Title:  The Frangipani Hotel: Fiction
Author:  Violet Kupersmith
Publication Information:  Spiegel & Grau. 2014. 256 pages.
ISBN:  0812993314 / 978-0812993318

Book Source:  I read this title based on the title and based on the fact that it is about Vietnam, a part of the world I have not read much about.

Favorite Quote:  "And there are many, many worlds within this one. Worlds alongside each other, worlds, that overlap each other; you might not even know if you wandered into one that wasn't your own."

Violet Kupersmith brings to life nine tales of her native Vietnam. The stories are ghost stories based on old Vietnamese folk tales and legends. This book reinterprets the stories into a more modern and current world - the one after the Vietnam War and the one incorporating the immigrant experience of the Vietnamese people.

The stories include:
  • A couple who are caught at sea in a storm and who come face to face with a ghost.
  • A young girl who is sent to Vietnam to supposedly visit her grandmother but who encounters and learns from a ghostly banh mi vendor.
  • A ghostly young woman who takes up residence in an unoccupied room at Frangipani Hotel.
  • A ghoul who searches for a body
  • A victim of a murder who seeks closure
Violet Kupersmith is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees and is only in her twenties. This collection of stories is her first book. She began writing this book as a college student and finished it during her time in Vietnam as a Fullbright scholar.

As a cultural study, this book was not what I expected. The only reading I have done related to Vietnam has been related to the Vietnam War. I was hoping to learn more and better understand the culture. That did not happen. In fact, I walked away feeling I needed to better understand the culture and then come back and re-read the book. Perhaps, I would understand them better, and the stories would create more of a reaction.

As ghost stories, the tales of this book are not particularly scary. The writing is very atmospheric, but the stories themselves do not elicit an emotional response from me. Perhaps, that is because I am missing the cultural context; perhaps, it just is. I am not sure. My basic reaction at the story's end was, "And ..... what's next?"

The writing is very atmospheric. In a way, the tone is similar to that of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman - tales of fantasy and mythology. Yet, these stories do no elicit the same response for me that Neil Gaiman's book did. One key difference, of course, is the short story format. These stories end somewhat abruptly, while Neil Gaiman's book fully delves into and develops a single story. These stories in this book also tell of an event or circumstance happening, while Neil Gaiman's book is an adult's retrospective on a childhood event. That perspective perhaps allows for more reflection than a description of ghostly occurrences.

Regardless, while the stories themselves do not move me, I do appreciate Violet Kupersmith's debut writing and will look for her next work.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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