ABOUT THE FRANGIPANI HOTEL
An extraordinarily compelling debut—ghost stories that grapple with the legacy of the Vietnam War
A beautiful young woman appears fully dressed in an overflowing bathtub at the Frangipani Hotel in Hanoi. A jaded teenage girl in Houston befriends an older Vietnamese gentleman she discovers naked behind a dumpster. A trucker in Saigon is asked to drive a dying young man home to his village. A plump Vietnamese-American teenager is sent to her elderly grandmother in Ho Chi Minh City to lose weight, only to be lured out of the house by the wafting aroma of freshly baked bread. In these evocative and always surprising stories, the supernatural coexists with the mundane lives of characters who struggle against the burdens of the past.
Based on traditional Vietnamese folk tales told to Kupersmith by her grandmother, these fantastical, chilling, and thoroughly contemporary stories are a boldly original exploration of Vietnamese culture, addressing both the immigrant experience and the lives of those who remained behind. Lurking in the background of them all is a larger ghost—that of the Vietnam War, whose legacy continues to haunt us.
Violet Kupersmith’s voice is an exciting addition to the landscape of American fiction. With tremendous depth and range, her stories transcend their genre to make a wholly original statement about the postwar experience.
Short stories demand a massive amount of tact and focus. Sometimes they fail to launch and others to land. Fortunately in the case of The Frangipani Hotel, it succeeds on both accounts.
All of the stories in this collection are deeply connected, as they all take place in Vietnam or with Vietnamese characters and have some sort of supernatural element. At first glance you might think it an ambitious attempt at horror, but I found the collection to be more on the side of folk tale. (Which I consider a plus).
All of these stories are moral in some way and connect to humanity's faults. We get a lustful white man drowning, a gluttonous girl neglecting to spend time with her grandma, and the deeply entrenching reminders from spirits showing the negative repercussions of war. The characters who go on all of these journeys are all very unique from one another but easily relatable to, which raises the stakes for us readers.
I think that one way in which this collection especially succeeds is that these stories continually bring up the reverberations of the Vietnam War in a way that makes the stories carry more weight. It adds the necessary context that makes seeing a ghost walk on water believable and substantially effective in giving us readers an understanding of how the ghosts of war literally or figuratively come into all aspects of life.
These stories aren't meant to scare, they're meant to teach and meant to warn, and by all means, they accomplish that. If you're a fan of folktales of any sort, this collection is an excellent contemporary example that'll keep you guessing in every story.
Reviewed by Amy Richardspn