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The Frangipani Hotel

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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 on a generation of displaced Vietnamese immigrants as well as those who remained in Vietnam.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2014

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About the author

Violet Kupersmith

2 books289 followers
Violet Kupersmith is the author of the novel BUILD YOUR HOUSE AROUND MY BODY and the short story collection THE FRANGIPANI HOTEL. She previously taught English with the Fulbright Program in the Mekong Delta and has lived in Da Lat and Saigon, Vietnam. She was the 2015-2016 David T.K. Wong fellow at the University of East Anglia, and she is the recipient of a 2022 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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5 stars
176 (18%)
4 stars
391 (42%)
3 stars
283 (30%)
2 stars
55 (5%)
1 star
23 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 241 reviews
May 8, 2014
I'm Vietnamese. I speak, write, and read the language. I was born there, I know people who were served in the Vietnam War (hi, dad), I know people who came over to Europe, the US, Australia as boat people. So needless to say, if this book claims to be a book of Vietnamese stories, I'm going to be extra-critical.

This book is a collection of Vietnamese ghost stories. They are the most boring ghosts I have ever read.

Let me clarify something: There are no traditional Vietnamese ghost stories. We have myths, we have legends, based on our kings and queens and traditional religion, but we do not have ghost stories.

Vietnamese culture believes in ghosts and spirits. We pray to our ancestors' souls, we burn incense and offerings to them, but we do not have traditional ghost stories in the sense that the West have urban legends like Bloody Mary. Our ghosts are spirits and lost souls that haunt the odd houses and street corners, told by friends to one another when they think they've seen one, that's all. We do not have a whole lot of named scary monsters and ghosts creatures like in other cultures. Our culture is filled with spirits. They are not to be feared.

This is a book with made up stories set in Vietnam that contains ghosts, it is not a book of Vietnamese ghost stories because there are no such things.

The Premise: A bunch of short stories that are not terrifying nor terribly poignant. They're ok. They're not bad. They didn't move me, and they should have moved me. A ghost girl who appears in an apartment and then goes out with an old white dude who wants a pretty girl on his arm. A teenaged Vietnamese girl who goes back to Vietnam to visit her grandmother to encounter a ghost that sells banh mi? Are you fucking kidding me? This is what the ghost says to the girl.
“How will you be able to live without this in America?” said the sandwich vendor with a teasing edge in her voice as she handed Thuy her second bánh mì.
Thuy lives in Houston. There are 1000000 banh mi shops in Houston. Dude.

I felt like I should have felt something, but the stories are pointless; they're vignettes, and I expected ghost stories. When I read a ghost story, I expect to be scared.

Expectations, ok?

Even the story about the trip of the boat people left me completely uninterested, and I grew up with these stories. The real horrors of the trip are scarier than any ghost could ever be, and the fact that these sorts of stories affect me not at all is pretty sad.

The stories lack a sense of time. I THINK they're set in present-day, but some stories felt like they were dated; there are no years mentioned, there's not much technology or any sort of markers of time, and I found myself very, very lost.

The Inconsistent Use of the Vietnamese Language: If you're not a native Vietnamese speaker, this would likely not bother you. I found the use and sprinkling of Vietnamese words in this book inconsistent. There are some very awkward uses of Vietnamese words from the POV of a native speaker. Technically, it works. Like the use of "con."
“Quiet, con, you asked for my boat story, so now listen to me tell it.”
"Con" means "child," the Vietnamese language works in that you address someone by their relationship and status with that person, for example, the book has a grandmother talking to her grandchild, she calls her "con," that's technically correct, but it just feels really awkward to me, like a French grandma saying "Come here, enfant." It's correct when translated, but it doesn't feel natural. I just don't like the use of certain Vietnamese words. It's just my own personal preference.

Then there's the use of Vietnamese vocabulary in its proper form, that is, accented. Like the word for "papaya," which is đu đủ. First off, this book puts the word together, as đuđủ; this is incorrect. The Vietnamese language is monosyllabic. Then, after using a properly accented word, the author proceeds to use other Vietnamese words and names without proper accent marks. It is jarring to me.

Then there are words that are just wrongly accented altogether. Cây hoa sú should be cây hoa sứ. Yeah, it's nitpicky. I don't care. It's a published book, and if you're going to publish it as a book of Vietnamese-based tales, it should be passable to someone who knows the language inside and out.

More examples: Hanoi the city. It is Hà Nội, because again, the Vietnamese language is monosyllabic. Every syllable is its own word! In the same chapter, certain words aren't properly accented, like names, places, while others are. It drove me fucking nuts! I want consistency!

The Good: Faithful representation of Vietnam, and the people living there. I like the mimutiae, such as the mention of the incomprehensible accents of the people in the Hue region. I love the descriptions of the lesser known places, like the mention of the Cham temple (the native Vietnamese people who live in the hills, largely persecuted by the Vietnamese who traveled down from China and settled in present-day Vietnam) I like the use of the dragon and fairy myths.

Overall: Just a collection of short vignettes about the Vietnamese experience, that happen to contain some ghosts.
Profile Image for Samadrita.
295 reviews4,522 followers
July 25, 2014
What your mind dredges up from memory and consciousness upon the utterance of the word 'Vietnam' is wholly predictable. That naked girl child of Trảng Bàng fleeing a napalm attack in terror, her scream silenced by the stillness of the well-known picture you have glanced at time and again or the grotesque image of blood-soaked bodies heaped by the side of a rice field in My Lai that continued to burn like a stinging slap across the face of the American administration long after the troops had pulled out of Vietnam. But the sheer tragedy of a nation being whittled down to the status of being defined by an ill-famed proxy war and a trendy word with an 'ism' at the end, has its roots in our collective apathy.

Marguerite Duras' Indo-China (as described in her fictionalized memoir The Lover) was a place inextricably linked to the abuse of her childhood years, a cultural melting pot, an eerie and exotic landscape which served to simultaneously heighten and assuage her mental anguish, a nation still resigned to being seen as just another jewel in the crown of Europe. But Violet Kupersmith's Vietnam is the hum of the life force coursing through her veins; the horror and beauty that this culture encompasses, a hand-me-down from her ancestors. And it is this Vietnam, we have not cared enough to know, which inhabits these short stories. The tinge of paranormal intrigue and the elements of suspense are merely there to help you keep turning the pages with ease but it is the landscape itself which towers above the set of native Vietnamese characters and the Vietnamese diaspora in the U.S., metamorphosing into a humanly protagonist narrating a melancholic tale of personal woes.

The water nymph boarder of Hotel Frangipani, the ailing old Mrs Tran whose time on earth runs out while waiting for her now-American daughter and grand-daughters to visit her from far off Houston, the soldier-turned-calligrapher who cannot banish the horrifying memories of accidentally killing a civilian girl while serving the Viet Cong, the septuagenarian who involuntarily undergoes a morbid transformation into a giant python at times and ends up recounting the story of his life to a random Vietnamese American teen, the white girl who works at the American consulate in Ho Chi Minh are many among the imaginary guides that Ms Kupersmith designates to familiarize readers with an assortment of folktale-ish stories with elements of horror as the common running theme.

To quibble, some of the stories have been fashioned in an amateurish way in which character tropes such as the thoughtful, unattractive, fat sister and the insensitive, skinny one and the ignorant, condescending American tourist abound. But the structural and thematic integrity of the remaining stories made up for the flaws of the former and caused my 3 stars to be elevated to 3.5 stars.

Subtlety isn't Ms Kupersmith's strongest suit but her writing serves as a good example of potency of theme and plot surpassing the need for linguistic adornments at times and a rude reminder of my little to no knowledge of Vietnam sans the 'war', an oversight which needs to be remedied post haste.
Profile Image for An Redman.
97 reviews1 follower
April 23, 2015
The writing is gorgeous and the settings are always lush. I love love love the way the author utilizes both elderly and children characters, a skill set often missing in single author anthologies. There exists a wry and mischievous sense of humour that pervades most of the stories. At no point did I feel like the author was trying too hard to impress us (which is a compliment, I assure you). I don't think I've read Vietnam centric stories before (certainly not this many in rapid succession) and I am delighted and buoyed by the prospect of finding more.

It's difficult to pick out stories that I particularly enjoyed or did not enjoy. None of them end in what I consider a satisfying manner (which is charming at first, exhausting eventually). Most of the stories are about 25 pages long with no briefer stories to break up the length monotony.

Perhaps my strongest grievance is the mild application of horror. I located this book in the horror section and I feel like I was mislead on this front. While fantasy abounds in this collection, the overt horror I crave is lacking.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,554 reviews2,535 followers
July 23, 2016
Inspired by her Vietnamese grandmother’s oral traditions, Kupersmith began composing these nine short stories as a student at Mt. Holyoke. Her knowledge of Vietnamese history, both ancient folktales and post-War reconstruction, is masterful, but she so carefully interweaves this material with her storylines that nothing ever seems superfluous. Her wit is similarly effortless. I particularly enjoyed her comic one-liners: “Vietnam was Fat Camp”; the Frangipani Hotel itself is dismissed with “Swanky name. Shitty place.” Sometimes the language describing impossibilities is so matter-of-fact it makes you laugh out loud: “You see, I am just a very old man who is sometimes a python” (from “Turning Back,” my favorite story).

(An excerpt of my full review is available to non-subscribers at BookBrowse.)
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,039 followers
December 27, 2013
I wasn't sure what to expect from a book of "Vietnamese ghost stories," but I really enjoyed the surprises and twists in this book. Some of the stories are set in Vietnam, and some are in places like California featuring Vietnamese characters, but all of them are very contemporary, at least one generation removed from the Vietnam War. Contemporary in setting but not necessarily in subject, as the stories told by the characters often go back several generations.

Look for characters that may or may not morph into animals, fantastically evil twins, and grandmotherly ghosts. I actually said, "Oh that's gross" out loud after finishing one very memorable story, "Guests." Vietnam itself really comes to life through the stories and characters, and that was what I was hoping for.

This book is officially released in April 2014. I got a sneak peak through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,694 reviews14.1k followers
March 6, 2014
The Frangipani is an old run down hotel n Saigon and where the story, Reception, takes place. One of my favorites and the story that had the most humor. I loved all of these stories, ghost tales and folk tales all having some hidden meaning to the teller of the story. All offer a glimpse into the Vietnamese culture.

Loved Skin and Bones though I will admit I am not sure of the whole meaning or the happenings within. It still fascinated me and I identified with the characters the most in this one. Red Veil I found to be the most creepy. Loved how the ending story connected with the beginning story. All in all a very good collection. One of my favorites so far this year.
3 reviews
August 29, 2014
Short stories are difficult; either you just begin to like the character and the story ends or the story doesn't develop enough to really care. I think Frangipani Hotel with it's nine stories suffers a little from the later. I did for the most part like the characters, but felt they lacked depth, especially the older characters. This book was advertised as being based on Vietnamese folk tales and because of this I expected to be immersed in the Vietnam culture, but found that it was not focal to the telling of each tale. Finally, I felt several of the stories ended very abruptly and left you almost hanging. Despite, all of this, I think Ms. Kupersmith stories were compelling and somewhat creepy. Will have to see how she grows as a writer.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,287 reviews731 followers
June 26, 2017

One less than noble reason for short stories growing on me is their inherent lack of commitment. For someone for whom 200 pages is short and 600 is close to being able to stand up and stretch, short stories, save for the rare cycle and complete collection, are a snack, more emotive per pound and less to process. This is especially the case when the area of expertise is not my own, as it's difficult to expend the necessary effort to find things amiss when you don't know much about the immigration and even less about the homeland. I've delved into Vietnam and Vietnamese in the US before, the latter more in person than the former, but if I hadn't read a review of this, I would think these stories were a similar sort to the ironclad mythos of vampires and werewolves and demons omnipresent in contemporary occidental imagination. As that is not the case, I'm left with even less bedrock, what with there being no familiar ritual history involved with the disturbances of the stories themselves. That breed of vein has not woven together in cross cultured Vietnam-US narrative, and it's impossible to say if it ever well.

The first forced the clash of the generation gap to a point that almost ruined the novelty of the eeriness. The second and titular gave away its revelational twist far too soon, especially considering its length. Three five and seven out of nine total each had a decent dose of creepiness, while four was the best by far in terms of the author succeeding in what they were trying to do: themes of migration coupled to the backdrop of Vietnam, soaked to the gills with horripilation and sprinkled with hints of marvelous prose. Overall, it's a double edged sword to say that I was glad to have this to come home to when my other choices were weighty tome and dense autobiography, as I'm not the sort to use this site for my lighter indulgences. However, there's potential, enough for me to keep an eye out for that first novel mentioned in back cover author bio.

On a closing note, I must say how pleasing the book is as a colorfully structured object. My switch from the libraries, where works are more often than not plastered over with uniform wedges, to my own collection has made me more appreciative of them decorating my apartment in private and my lunchtime table in public. Don't judge a book by its cover, but I really do mean the the border between the 'like it' and 'really like it' with this one, especially for this last sentence, brought to you by story #4, 'Little Brother':
They're with me still. I've had them stored in my head this whole time and it's like having another shark in the back of my truck, but this time I don't know where I'm taking it. I just keep driving and hope it won't get restless, because I'm too scared to feet it.
Profile Image for rachel.
745 reviews142 followers
June 1, 2014
I have a thing for reading books by preternaturally young writers. As you can see from the examples I have linked, I tend to find their work either prodigious or terrible.

Violet Kupersmith's The Frangipani Hotel is a different breed. Like Abigail Tarttelin's Golden Boy, she tackles an inherently risky topic. Good supernatural stories have a feeling of agelessness; Kupersmith's intent (at least, as I've gathered her intent to be from the book copy and reviews) was for the spirits of these stories to reflect the context of postwar Vietnam.

I began to worry about this collection, as the introductory blip "Boat Story" read like many, many other things I'd read before. Then, onto "The Frangipani Hotel," where the American character was rendered so dreadfully "American businessman/WASPy tourist cliche" that I thought the book was going to be a huge flop, authorial precociousness without real wisdom.

Oh, but I was so wrong. Because "The Frangipani Hotel" in its totality is a cunning dark fable, with an ending that chilled my bones and propelled me through the rest of the book in search of similar delights.

It is in my visceral enjoyment of the horror of this book that I began to see the parallels to the Vietnam War, although only one story is really "about" a wartime experience. The book's brilliance is in the constant interchange of giving and of taking life threaded throughout the stories, the sense of not knowing who to trust, everyone watching everyone else with a suspicious eye, character manipulations both deadly and innocuous. It's the ghost of guerilla warfare and unwarranted war that threads these stories together, subtle until you look at the collection as a whole. You see characters heading to their doom, but you don't see quite how it will happen; foreboding and vague dread precedes sly ambush. The best examples of that are the titular story and "Turning Back," easily my favorite story in the book. (I won't spoil it for you by saying anything further. You must read it.)

Sometimes I dish out the five stars like Oprah, but this time I'm holding back and giving The Frangipani Hotel a four. This book's four would have been a five for many other books, simply because I think Violet Kupersmith a few years down the road and matured as a writer will blow me away without those beginning reservations. There's another new talent to watch out for. EXCITING.
Profile Image for Emma Sea.
2,176 reviews1,046 followers
May 7, 2014
Gobsmackingly good.

I found Turning Back and One-Finger to be far less accomplished, but honestly? I couldn't pick between the others for my favorite. The sense of place was captivating.

I notice one reviewer says, "The writer shows promise . . . though [it] does not have the level of craft of first-rate professional fiction."

To which I'd reply, "What the hell are you reading?" (I almost giffed, here).
Profile Image for Stacia.
825 reviews101 followers
August 5, 2019
I'm not familiar with Vietnamese ghost or spirit stories, so I don't know if the stories in The Frangipani Hotel reflect on the culture & folklore of Vietnam or not. I do know that Kupersmith has created an atmospheric collection of stories that seem to mesh the spirit world with the modern world, weaving the eerie or odd into modern times, often with a mischievous humor, presenting both a clash & a concert of characters (whether human, spirit, animal, or location). I am glad I found this beguiling book of stories.
Profile Image for Anmiryam.
770 reviews132 followers
April 10, 2014
When I read advance descriptions of this debut story collection, I interpreted the mentions of ghost stories infused with Vietnamese folkloric elements to mean there would be literary ghosts. By that I mean there would be tales that would reveal metaphoric ghosts, the ghosts of a country scarred by a drawn-out and debilitating war, the stories of immigrants who are haunted by the country and family they left behind and the loss and longing of later generations born in the United States and in Vietnam who are searching for their own connection to a lost world. And, yes, it is all these things.

What I didn't expect was that these stories are scary. Nightmare inducing scary. Sensuous and violent, unexpected and even funny when they need to be. But this makes sense as lives Kupersmith portrays are marked by violence, disruption and enormous changes that are traumatic and frightening. It is also exciting that Violet Kupersmith, at twenty-four already understands that focus on small moments can create large emotional impacts for the reader, that discomfiting ambiguities are better than tidy resolutions.

I read novels far more often that story collections, because I am often disappointed when collections, like musical albums, are dominated by a big hit single, or bravura story, detracting from appreciation of the other selections and fracturing the sense of appreciation for the book as a whole. The Frangipani Hotel avoids this failing and I found that power of the book grows as you begin to see how the differing perspectives presented in these nine stories work together, like a great concept album or a symphony built around the closing lines of its first story of a young girl asking her grandmother about leaving Vietnam:

"But I want a real story!"
"That was a real story. All my stories are real."
"No! You know what I mean, I know you do! Why can't you tell me how you escaped?"
"It's simple, child: did we ever really escape?"

FYI: I received a copy from the publisher from Net Galley, but that didn't influence my review. In fact, after reading about half of the stories, I knew I wanted my own physical copy and went out and bought it last week.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,230 reviews1,003 followers
March 6, 2014
ATTENTION! Nebula nominators and World Fantasy Award voters! You want to read this book!
Yes, I know it says "The Frangipani Hotel: Fiction." And the cover is ever so tastefully vague and understated. A more accurate title might be: "The Frangipani Hotel: Dark, Lush and Horrific Ghostly Tales of Vietnam." If the cover artist really wanted to reflect the content of the book, there'd be a creepy zombie walking through the fog, next to that quaint boat.

But, Kupersmith is clearly a new young author to watch. She does a fantastic job of melding Vietnamese folklore with the complex, rich realities of the country. Her writing style is graceful, and captures the nuances of horror - using understatement to great effect, contrasting the beautiful with the grisly.

My only complaint is that this collection of short stories is all too brief. I'll definitely be on the lookout for more from this author.

Boat Story
Skin and Bones
Little Brother
The Red Veil
Turning Back
Descending Dragon

Copy received from NetGalley and Random House, which does not affect my review in any way. Thanks!
Profile Image for Chaitra.
3,300 reviews
December 23, 2013
I'm going to be biased. These are my type of ghost stories - eerie and atmospheric rather than gross out or jump-scary. Even though I'm not Vietnamese, these scaries seem familiar. While I'm positive I've never heard exactly the same tale, there's the feeling that I could have heard it, in a good way. For the stories themselves, as with any story collection, there are good eggs and bad ones. But the good ones are really good - I still feel uneasy about Reception, set in the titular Frangipani Hotel & Skin and Bones, about two sisters, one with an eating problem, visiting their grandmother in Vietnam by themselves. Little Brother is also good and creepy. All in all, a great collection that will stay in the back of my mind for a while. 4 stars.

I received this book for review via NetGalley.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,586 reviews1,985 followers
December 2, 2014
Prepare yourself for the wunderkind talk sure to erupt when Violet Kupersmith's book of stories comes out. She's ridiculously young and has a pretty author's photo. It's enough to make any aspiring writer jealous.

Worse, Kupersmith earns it. Her book of stories is lovely and eerie and full of spooky stories. Americans in Vietnam, Vietnamese in America, displacement is a regular theme. The early stories are the highlight, such as the titular one. (Though I have to say: TERRIBLE title for a book. I still can't remember how to spell it even though it just spent 3 nights on my bedside table.)

I am not much of a short story reader, but I was happy to jump back into these every time I picked up the book. I look forward to her novel.
Profile Image for Sharon/ LFrog1386.
18 reviews6 followers
November 18, 2018
Amazing tales of the supernatural and ghosts of war from a gifted storyteller. Kupersmith knows how to keep you guessing until the very end, then leaves you with a quick punch to the gut. Breathless, you go back and read the last paragraph or last line again, not quite believing what you just read. The stories echo of a country and culture deeply rooted in the souls of those born there and fought there and still haunt the survivors to this day and forever more.
Profile Image for Anna Janelle.
155 reviews35 followers
April 28, 2014
I’ll be incredibly honest in admitting my ignorance about Vietnamese culture and traditions. (To me, my only relevant frame of reference is my limited knowledge about the horror of the Vietnam War. I mean, basic history class stuff coupled with brief interactions with veterans – usually old alcoholics that I encounter in bars, men still wrecked from their involvement in that botched war that happened over forty years ago. I can’t imagine living through that horror as an American – much less living with that horror as part of your national history. The Frangipani Hotel tries to verbalize the effects that this bloody history has had on the identity of the Vietnamese through a number of ghost stories inspired by traditional tales passed on by the author’s own grandmother.

I respect what the author was striving for here – even if I don’t necessarily understand the fine nuances and cultural references. I appreciated a number of stories in the collection – most notably “The Red Veil” and “One-Finger.” In these ghost stories, Vietnam is literally haunted by the lingering effects of the war on its people. The past haunts all of the characters – even those who were not around to experience the horror of the war firsthand. Not all of the stories are based in Vietnam; however, the ghosts of the past are not easy to shake, following immigrants who have settled elsewhere looking to escape their past. Long story short: there is no escape. The past informs our future and certain events embed themselves in our cultural identity. That said, not all of the stories read as successfully as the others did. I felt some of the endings to be unsatisfying and empty – despite their twists and turns. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy them – because I did. I’m just not sure if I would recommend it to others based on the strength of the author’s literary ability. The saving grace of this collection is the cultural background and historical narrative that drives the stories.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,002 reviews21 followers
February 13, 2014
Ms. Kupersmith's writing and descriptions are well done. There is a good sense of place to all the stories, whether you are in a crappy neighborhood in a big American city or in the jungles of Vietnam. I think she has a promising career as a writer.
Although I liked the stories in The Frangipani Hotel, I did not love them. Here's why. Although they were ghost stories, I was never afraid or creeped out. My favorite of the ghost stories was "One-Finger," which had the scariest back story and atmosphere. I liked "Guests" best of all the stories. It was more of a relationship story than the others.
I tried to think of what were the problems that the stories didn't move me more. I thought about Neil Gaiman stories and why I like them so much. Here is the difference I found. Gaiman writes about strange things that happen to young people by having the protagonist look back as an older person pondering how the strange happenings determined the course of his life. Ms. Kupersmith's stories often end with a weird thing happening to a young person and we never see how it affects him or her. For instance, in "Skin and Bones," the young protagonist finds a horrifying thing the day before she is to return to America. But, we never see the outcome. How did the horrifying event change her? We don't know.
Kupersmith writes so well that I think, when she has a few years on her, she'll have characters that look back and see how the ghosts, monsters, wars, poverty, have affected them and that will give added depth to her work.
I won this book on a Goodreads giveaway for which I am very grateful.
Profile Image for Sanda.
168 reviews83 followers
June 6, 2014
I must admit I usually stir clear of collections of short stories. The book cover looked interesting however, and when I read a bit more about the book itself, the combination of a young author and stories about Vietnam did sound sufficiently exotic for me to take a chance. And as it frequently happens, good things happen when we step out of our comfort zone.

Violet Kupersmith is a talented story teller without a doubt and a promising writer. I would dare say that for most people in North America Vietnam is most frequently associated with the war in the 60s and Vietnamese food. For such audience these stories will present a very different face of Vietnam and Vietnamese people.

All stories are tinged with the element of supernatural, something I wasn't expecting but enjoyed nevertheless - especially in the title story, which also happens to be my favorite. A beautiful and mysterious girl sudden appearance in the Frangipani Hotel usurps the predictable existence of the young boy working at the reception desk. In another story called "Skin and Bones", a young, chubby Vietnamese American girl is sent to Vietnam (which she views as her "fat camp") to stay with her grandmother. Her vacation ends up revolving around her visits to a faceless sandwich maker who is not exactly what she seems.

Personally I hate spoilers and I believe an there is a special kind of charm in having to keep reading in order to unravel the mystery hidden in each story. The Frangipani Hotel is such an unexpectedly pleasant read, which I highly recommend to all adventurous readers out there.
Profile Image for Chris Blocker.
691 reviews160 followers
August 3, 2016
Violet Kupersmith's debut collection, The Frangipani Hotel, has some wonderful stories. All with a touch of Vietnam, these ghost stories often blend the war era with modern times. Many are startling and creepy, but what's most impressive is the variety from one story to the next. Overall, this collection had some hits and it had its misses. There were some stories that felt unworked, perhaps even a bit juvenile; let's acknowledge that for the age and experience of the author, this is an amazing start. Kupersmith wrote this collection as an undergraduate. I expect a couple years working on the craft, receiving guidance from a mentor, and gaining more world experience will make her a literary strength to be reckoned with. An average score for The Frangipani Hotel, but I have high hopes for the author.

Received advance reader's copy from the publisher through Goodreads' First Reads program in exchange for review.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
356 reviews5 followers
July 7, 2015
This book is perhaps one of the most unique reads that I have encountered in the last couple of years. It is a breath of fresh air in an area of space that seems to be rehashed over and over in the world of the ghostly and bizarre. The author presents a compilation of paranormal stories that take place in Vietnam, which are both fascinating and disturbing. It brings a slight insight of both the spiritual and family practices of the people of Vietnam. Thus, making the stories all more personal for the reader. Each story is completely different from the other and does not disappoint. I really enjoyed reading this book and was happy that I picked it up. I have to recommend this book hands down. I wish more people would read books that are like ones such as this. If you are a person that enjoys the paranormal, but is looking for something a little different, than this book is for you!
Profile Image for Cheryl.
5,073 reviews183 followers
June 4, 2014
I love a good ghost story. I like to be scared. To have the feeling that someone might be watching or to get goose bumps and have the hairs on my arms stand up. These are all feelings that I should experience when I read a great ghost story or two or in this case many ghost stories. I felt none of these while reading this book. Not even a whisper of a feeling.

The first story was fine. The second story I can not remember and only read a few pages of. The third story was better but at the same time I was just going through the motions of reading it. Nothing captured my attention and kept it there in the moment of the story. After this I really did not care to read anymore of the stories.
Profile Image for Nancy Steinle gummel.
507 reviews87 followers
March 8, 2015
The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith is a first reads win and I am giving my honest opinion. This book is a compilation of short stories all involving the Vietnamese people either here in the States or in Vietnam. There is en element of the supernatural that rings out in these stories. If you let your imagination run you can see the horror before your eyes.
Profile Image for Katie.
857 reviews15 followers
September 15, 2020
Writing short stories is so hard. There were a few that I wished were full books - the characters and setting were fantastic. But there's a darkness that courses through this book, so it was tough reading before bed.
Profile Image for Laura.
598 reviews60 followers
January 21, 2023
I had mixed feelings about Violet Kupersmith's debut novel, Build Your House Around My Body, but was impressed by its clever puzzle-box narrative and some indelible set-pieces, and loved the bonus short story that was included at the end of my edition. My hope was that I would like Kupersmith even more as a short story writer than as a novelist. This turned out not to be the case - I think whatever she writes next will be her best thing yet, as she's clearly still developing her obvious talents - but The Frangipani Hotel was worth reading. The first story in the collection, 'Boat Story', where a granddaughter wants to hear her grandmother's dramatic tale of escaping from Vietnam in a small boat but gets an unnerving ghost story instead, tells us what we're in for. Only a couple of stories really stood out to me in the way that Kupersmith's other vignettes have: my favourite was 'Little Brother', where an elderly Vietnamese trucker takes on a disturbing passenger, and I also liked 'The Frangipani Hotel', which hints at a macabre family history but resists telling us too much, and 'Turning Back', where a teenage girl living in Houston meets an old man who keeps turning into a python. If you've read Build Your House..., you'll see how certain motifs link the two books, and it's the stories that resonated with that later novel that I found the most vivid and unnerving. Nevertheless, Kupersmith writes so fluidly that I sped through this collection.
Profile Image for Kkraemer.
731 reviews21 followers
December 31, 2018
This is a book of ghosts, the kinds of ghosts who have been long disturbed and long interested in the changes wrought by the conflict between Vietnam and its visitors from the West. Mostly, these are Vietnamese ghosts, but they are also the ghosts of the young who were disappointed, the naive who were exploited, and the displaced who are eternally lost.

These stories are magnificent: Kupersmith draws pictures that place the reader not only inside Vietnam but in the mind's eye of those who have been touched by that country, even in the smallest way possible. In each of the characters, there is a void, somehow...something that, despite their best efforts at putting forth a smiling face, stays hollow, stays alone.

In one of the stories, a woman glides along old age, not joining her contemporaries in longing for the past. For her, "...the mind drifted away too easily here; the walls were all bare and cream-colored, and in this blankness the memories crept in. They lapped at the edge of her consciousness like the Mikong, deep and patient and full of silt, and soaked into her dreams. There were good ghosts -- the breeze that made the rice stalks dance, the snort of her father's water buffalo, the way the sunlight would make a halo on her mother's black hair -- but there were many more bad ones: the shrieking sound of exploding shells in the night, the dried blood in the street gutters, the hissing sound of a soldier's fly unzipping, his shadow obscuring a figure curled on her side on the ground..."

Such is the writing of these stories. Beautiful. Terrifying. Utterly inescapable.

Profile Image for Piyali Mukherjee.
174 reviews7 followers
September 15, 2018
I loved the local flavor of Vietnam that colored these stories, but there was a distinct improvement in style from the opening story to the end. "The Guests" would probably be my most favorite story since it captures the dissonance of the immigrant experience beautifully. The elements of magical realism in the book felt closer to intriguing rather than terrifying, and I don't know if this collection is necessarily a collection of horror stories. The horror was easy to foreshadow and identify in some parts (like the Banh-Mi story or even the titular The Frangipani Hotel). So if you're looking for horror, I don't know if this is the right book. If you're looking for traditional Vietnamese stories, I don't know if this is the right book. If you're looking for a collection of stories that capture a slice of the Vietnamese experience then yes this is a great book.
Profile Image for Miriam Kumaradoss-Hohauser.
158 reviews4 followers
August 17, 2022
Weird as hell, intensely haunted, and often gorgeous on the sentence level. Some of the stories felt like they perhaps needed to be novels (too much world compressed into not enough space or something like that) IMO, but that's probably my favorite smarmy backhanded compliment to offer lol—I want more of this person's writing and that's my complaint. Favorites include "Little Brother", "Turning Back", and "The Frangipani Hotel"
Profile Image for Elliot.
580 reviews37 followers
October 19, 2018
I'm never quite sure how to review short story collections, so bear with me. These stories all share a sense of unease and creeping dread, which is something I enjoy in my ghost stories. There are plenty of spooky ghosts, unsettling scenarios, and narratives that leave your skin crawling. They have a feeling of tapping into urban legends and traditional folk tales (though I don't know enough about Vietnamese culture to say whether that is accurate or not). The connective tissue that holds these stories together is a different ghost though - the specter of the Vietnam War looms in the background of all of these stories, grim and devastating.

I enjoyed this collection, and it satisfied my spooky October itch, but it never fully blew me away. I couldn't really say why other than it's really hard to wow me with shorter fiction. I will say many of the stories share a similar structure and part of that structure includes abrupt endings. This didn't bother me, per se, but it did start to feel repetitive when reading the collection straight through. I think I might have enjoyed it more if I had spaced the stories out in between other fictions. All in all this is a solid collection, and I'm glad I read it. If you're looking for ghost stories with a Vietnamese flavor these will likely satisfy.
Profile Image for Sarah-Hope.
1,049 reviews87 followers
February 5, 2014
The Fangipani Hotel is an interesting creature—an atmospheric collection of ghost/supernatural stories that are contemporary in their setting, but grounded in centuries-old Vietnamese folklore. I'm not usually a reader of supernatural fiction, but having read a fair bit of non-fiction about the war in Vietnam, I was curious to see what the author would do in creating post-war narratives that drew on both recent and more distant history. The war itself was certainly more horrific than any Stephen King novel—and "our" war was only the latest in a long history of struggles for Vietnamese independence.

These aren't really stories that will surprise. The tropes of this sort of literature are familiar enough, even to people like me who read very little of it. But these are definitely stories that will unsettle—and in more ways than one. First, they offer that seductive pull of a situation that begins just a little bit off, then takes the reader further and further from reality as she knows it. I found that the added glimpses of contemporary Vietnamese culture and experience (both in Vietnam and the United States) turned the collection into a sort of other-worldly diversity training: this combination of supernatural "real" and "real" real made for an interesting read.

This is Violet Kupersmith's first book, and it feels like a first book. Some moments are exquisitely presented; others seem a bit flat-footed, as though the writer couldn't quite move beyond her initial idea to a fuller embodiment of that idea. In some of its best moments, the collection has a thread of humor running through it that illuminates many of the cultural contrasts underlying the stories. In "Guests," set in Vietnam's community of European and American ex-patriots we are told about one character, an American teaching at an Australian international university, that "If he ever worried about color it was over whether or not he should spell it with a u." In the same story, the characters spend endless evenings in bars and clubs that embody the cultural hybridization they experience, including one bar in which "the back wall was taken up by a lovingly rendered mural of Marx, Lenin, and Ho Chi Minh frolicking together in a swimming-pool-sized bowl of pho. Marx was wearing water wings and a snorkel."

Another story, "Turning Back," features a Vietnamese-American narrator who works night shifts at a local convenience store while her brother engages in low-level gang activity. This piece is related in first person and opens with the wry observation that "Though one fortunate consequence of my father's disappearance was that we became estranged from his family and whatever nuptials they might incur, given the size of Momma's side there are still at least four weddings to attend each year. Weddings of cousins, weddings of second cousins, weddings of people who are most likely cousins because their last name is Nguyen and they live within a sixty-mile radius."

My hope is that Kupersmith will continue to write—and continue to be published. I expect the imagination she brings to her work will continue to yield interesting narratives and that her prose will become increasingly rich and complex.
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