The Frangipani Hotel: Stories by Violet Kupersmith (+Giveaway!)

Ghosts explore immigration, tradition and self-identity.

Synopsis of The Frangipani Hotel: Stories by Violet Kupersmith: A self-assured and stunning collection by an astonishingly gifted new writer, these stories—based on traditional Vietnamese tales—are sure to appeal to fans of Karen Russell, Jennifer Egan, Colson Whitehead, George Saunders, and Téa Obrecht. The Frangipani Hotel blends the old world and the new with fantastical, chilling, and original explorations of the ghosts that continue to haunt us: those of the Vietnam War.

My two cents

I have a soft spot for immigrant stories! Short stories, yes, I love those, too. Ghost stories, yes, yes! And then the genesis of this collection, intriguing: I loved that the author, who is of mixed heritage, found inspiration for these stories from her Vietnamese grandmother's traditional ghost stories and her own life experiences. Read Violet Kupersmith's guest post about her chats with here grandmother here.

This collection of nine creepy ghost stories, all with a Vietnamese element to them, make a wonderfully macabre and uncomfortable read.

What I liked

Creepy but not cheesy scary. I grew up in an Asian culture where superstition, the supernatural and folklore are so much a part of everyday life. I think because of that, these Vietnamese scary tales naturally resonated with me: they seemed eerily familiar, as if they were Vietnamese versions of folk tales or urban legends I've known and heard since from childhood.

These are not scary in a typical "boo" way. As Asian ghost stories go, they are subtle in their scariness. They have a magical realism to them, with a slight chill factor, a menacing undertone, and unexpected twist at the end. Think Twilight Zone.

The "ghosts" aren't always scary but they make their appearance often as real life people or in tangible forms, to impart some chilling life lesson or be a harbinger of some great realization.

The themes. What I found quite profound about this collection was the exploration of the themes of immigration, cultural identity, and ultimately of self-identity.

Vietnamese culture is interwoven in the fabric of these stories, providing us with a glimpse into its traditions and history. The Vietnamese War is pivotal moment as it impels the characters to migrate from Vietnam to the US, allowing the characters to explore the pain and loss brought about by war, and the ensuring tug-of-war involved in forcibly melding two cultures both in mind an in body.

I offer you these quick summaries without giving too much away:

Boat Story opens this collection, with a young girl needling her grandmother to tell her about their family history for a school assignment but instead gets a stomach full of papaya and a ghost story that her grandmother and grandfather lived through.

Reception is one of the longer stories and is about a beautiful ghost who haunts the Frangipani Hotel.

Skin and Bones is among my favourites because it uses the lure of food to explore rootlessness, cultural affinity and family relationships. Young US-based sisters are sent to visit with grandma in Vietnam to reconnect ... but there is something wrong. Do you like bánh mì? Read on.

Little Brother is a truck driver's close encounter with a ghost.

The Red Veil is a ghost story told by a nun to a nun-in-training while making egg rolls.

Guests, the only non-ghost story, explores how Mia struggles to make sense of straddling two cultures.

Turning Back is how a young Vietnamese girl who works the night shift at the corner convenience store has an encounter with a man cursed as a shape-shifter, and how his life and future impacts on the girl.

One-Finger seems to be a folk tale which brings together a band of old geezers who are haunted by their past.

Descending Dragon closes the collection, highlighting how one learns to make amends with one's past.
The prose. The language is atmospheric and lyrical yet straightforward. There is unexpected humour in some places, which I found oddly appropriate!

Verdict: I enjoyed this collection thoroughly. I look forward to more from this debut author, as this collection promises that she has some great stories begging to be told.

A chilling collection of ghost stories which is an unusual treatment to drive home the themes of immigration, grappling with the past and tradition, and discovering one's identity. This is an unsettling read that I recommend this to those who enjoy immigrant stories, short stories, and those who'd like to experience a different type of scary.


About Violet Kupersmith

Violet Kupersmith was born in rural Pennsylvania in 1989 and grew up outside of Philadelphia. Her father is American and her mother is a former boat refugee from Vietnam. After graduating from Mount Holyoke College she received a yearlong Fulbright Fellowship to teach and research in the Mekong Delta. She is currently at work on her first novel.

Thanks to the publishers, I have
1 paperback of The Frangipani Hotel up for grabs! (US only)
Please use Promosimple form below.

Check out the rest of the tour here.
I received copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Spiegel and Grau (April 1, 2014)


  1. This sounds so good! I think it's very impressive for a book to be creepy without over doing it.


© guiltless readingMaira Gall