Published by Random House Publishing Group on April 1st 2014
Genres: Asian American, Fiction, Ghost, Short Stories (single author)
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
A beautiful young woman appears fully dressed in an overflowing bathtub at the Frangipani Hotel in Hanoi. A jaded teenage girl in Houston befriends an older Vietnamese gentleman she discovers naked behind a dumpster. A trucker in Saigon is asked to drive a dying young man home to his village. A plump Vietnamese-American teenager is sent to her elderly grandmother in Ho Chi Minh City to lose weight, only to be lured out of the house by the wafting aroma of freshly baked bread. In these evocative and always surprising stories, the supernatural coexists with the mundane lives of characters who struggle against the burdens of the past. Based on traditional Vietnamese folk tales told to Kupersmith by her grandmother, these fantastical, chilling, and thoroughly contemporary stories are a boldly original exploration of Vietnamese culture, addressing both the immigrant experience and the lives of those who remained behind. Lurking in the background of them all is a larger ghost—that of the Vietnam War, whose legacy continues to haunt us. Violet Kupersmith’s voice is an exciting addition to the landscape of American fiction. With tremendous depth and range, her stories transcend their genre to make a wholly original statement about the postwar experience.
Should we start with the good or the bad? The good? Okay. This book is excellent at creating atmosphere. The best stories are those that take place in Vietnam, after all since the war, it’s become a haunted place. An overall feeling of creepiness pervades all these stories. You just know that something is a little off – even when you can’t put your finger on it.
The stories that take place in the U.S. have great spooky atmosphere as well, but since I’m an American, even though I am peeking in at Vietnamese culture – there’s still a familiarity with the setting that makes the spookiness a little weaker.
There are one or two excellent stories in this collection. About 1/3 of the stories are just okay and the other 2/3 of the stories border on abysmal. Despite the excellent atmosphere and general creepiness, too many of these stories have plot points that go nowhere it felt a little lazy, like the author could have (should have?) expanded some of the better stories into novellas and left the others on the cutting room floor.
Admittedly I’m not familiar with the source material, that is the traditional Vietnamese ghost stories – had I been, perhaps this collection would have made more sense and been more enjoyable. As it was, most of the stories fell a bit flat for me. This is disappointing as I had pretty high hopes for this book.