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I chose to read The Frangipani Hotel because I have a quite few things in common with the characters: I’m the child of a family who escaped the war in Vietnam; I’m completely Westernized, meaning I don’t speak Vietnamese or practice any Vietnamese customs whatsoever; and, I have never been to Vietnam and have an outsider’s view of the country and its people. On a side note, I love Vietnamese food and eat as much as I can (but don’t talk to me about trying to make it).
The Frangipani Hotel is a collection of short stories by Violet Kupersmith inspired by traditional Vietnamese ghost stories. It was interesting to note in publicity materials that she was lucky to have a writing mentor in college that believed in her writing, so much so her mentor sent a few stories to an agent who secured a book deal with a publisher.
From my understanding of Vietnamese folklore, they believe that there are different kinds of ghosts walking among us and they all need something. Maybe they have a story to share or something to teach us. Maybe they will be polite about what they need or maybe they will just take it by force. Some of the ghosts or strange creatures we encounter in The Fragipani Hotel have these needs. I liked that no two stories were the same and had perspectives from male and female, old and young characters. From quite a few of the stories, you get a very good sense of what it’s like for the children of Vietnamese immigrants to be caught between worlds, with one foot in the West and one foot in East. The supernatural element in the stories was often creepy and sometimes downright freaky, more than I would say scary. My favourite story was Skin and Bones which was about an overweight teenage girl discovering the delights of bαnh mi sandwiches.
Personally, I enjoyed this collection because it made me reflect on my own fragmented connection to Vietnamese culture. I think other readers might enjoy the stories because they are imaginative and exotic with wonderful descriptions of Vietnam.
When I first started reading the collection, the writing of Violet Kupersmith struck me as being a little awkward and lacking the substance of a more seasoned writer. I couldn’t help thinking of how some of these stories may have originated from her college days. However, the writing improved as I went along, and I began to see more depth and complexity to her style.
The Frangipani Hotel is a well-rounded collection of stories which I found very entertaining. I recommend the book to anyone looking for something completely different and exotic to read, especially if they are unfamiliar with the culture of Vietnam.
NOTE: Thanks to Random House, I received this ARC through NetGalley.