I’m not a huge fan of science fiction or paranormal stories, but The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith stood out at first glance because of its subject: Vietnam. (I first heard about it on Svetlana’s Reads and Views.) After pouring through the book in two days, I’m so glad I gave it a try. Kupersmith is a fabulous writer and master storyteller.
My favorite story was the least supernatural, but only by coincidence because I loved all of them. “Guests” is set in modern day Ho Chi Minh City (the stories in the book take place both in the US and in Vietnam) where Mia is a young diplomat who interviews Amerasians and mothers of Amerasians who seek visas to the US. Tall and blond, she attracts attention wherever she goes. And because of this, she often feels out of place. Her boyfriend, Charlie, is a fellow blond American who teaches at an Australian school. He has adapted to life in Vietnam and dated a bunch of local women before he met Mia. But Charlie’s friends don’t like that he’s moved in with Mia and isn’t as fun as he used to be. And as much as Charlie chastises Mia for not fitting in, the joke is ultimately on him. There is nothing really supernatural about this story, but to me it was just as haunting as the others.
“The Frangipani Hotel” story is also good. It reminds me of the two weeks I spent in a dive hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, where I was followed by secret police and met a cast of eccentric travelers. I also liked “Skin and Bones”, a story about two teenage girls whose mother sends them from Houston to stay with their grandmother in Vietnam so the younger daughter could lose weight. I loved the descriptions of Vietnam and again felt like I’d time-traveled back to a place from long ago.
Although each of these stories is unique with a distinct voice, all of them touch upon the war in one way or another. And regardless of the supernatural elements in the stories, the ramifications of war are haunting enough.