Title: The Frangipani Hotel
Author: Violet Kupersmith
Release date: April 1, 2014
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Genre: Short story collection
Source: Review copy (TLC Book Tours/Netgalley)
Rating: 5 out of 5
Gabriel Garcia Marquez annoys me. There, I said it. His is the most prominent name in magical realism, and his work had me convinced that I was not a fan of the genre. I inevitably grew weary of what seems like cutesy or convenient inventions put it place to further the narrative or tickle the reader. I want to know if a story is based in the world that I know or if it is fantastical. Go big or go home; don’t settle for ambiguous magical realism, I always thought.
Thankfully, Violet Kupersmith, an impossibly young debut writer, changed all of that.
In a series of long short stories—about half a dozen in all—Kupersmith composes a collage of Vietnamese identities, fragmented by perspective and background and distance. There’s the sixteen-year-old girl questioning her grandmother about her escape to the U.S. in “Boat Story”; Phi, who works at the eponymous Frangipani Hotel in “Reception”; Sister Emmanuel, whose story in “The Red Veil” pushes a questioning novice even further from God; and several others. Each story touches upon magical or mythical elements in large and small ways.
Although I am not familiar with Vietnamese mythology, I would guess that Kupersmith is immersed in it. The collection is steeped in folklore and mythology, whether real or imagined. The magic in these stories never felt like a convenient way to end a tale, a mythological deux es machina. Quite the contrary, each invocation of magic, if you want to call it that, felt inevitable in a strange and thrilling way. Of course a dying man would try to steal his driver’s life force! Who wouldn’t? And you should never trust the girl who mysteriously washed up in a hotel room. Each twist is utterly natural.
Kupersmith is inventive to the right degree; it never seems as though she is straining to shock or thrill. No bells and whistles—just solid, compelling storytelling.
Her prose is clear and confident, with an assured voice that made me enviously check and re-check to make sure she was really a first-time author. All of the stories center around Vietnam, but each character has a strong voice of their own and unique identities.
So, yeah, in case you weren’t sure: I loved every second of this story collection.
The entire book was full of fantastic quotes and observations, but here are some of my favorites:
“Why can’t you tell me how you escaped?”
“It’s simple, child: Did we ever really escape?”
“The first rule of the country we come from is that it always gives you what you ask for, but never exactly what you want.”
“All I have is a story. I’ve never told it to anyone before and I think it’s time. You may take what you like from it; look for a moral if you can. Perhaps the story will give you something, though you must be careful lest you give yourself to it instead.”
Monday, March 3rd: Bibliophiliac
Tuesday, March 4th: The Things You Can Read
Wednesday, March 5th: Savvy Verse and Wit
Tuesday, March 11th: The Written World
Tuesday, March 11th: Books a la Mode + author guest post
Wednesday, March 12th: River City Reading
Thursday, March 13th: Under My Apple Tree
Monday, March 17th: 1330 V
Thursday, March 20th: The Relentless Reader
Monday, March 24th: A Bookish Way of Life
Tuesday, March 25th: Suko’s Notebook
Wednesday, March 26th: Lit and Life
Thursday, March 27th: Too Fond
Monday, March 31st: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Tuesday, April 1st: Mandy Boles: Life Between Books
Wednesday, April 2nd: Guiltless Reading
Thursday, April 3rd: Books and Movies
Monday, April 7th: The Lost Entwife
Tuesday, April 8th: Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, April 9th: girlichef
TBD: 50 Books Project