Completed: March 10, 2014
Length: 256 Pages
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Based on traditional Vietnamese ghost stories told to the author by her Vietnamese grandmother but updated to reflect the contemporary ghost of the Vietnam War, here is a mesmerizing collection of thematically linked stories, united by the first and last story of the collection.
Violet wrote these unusually accomplished stories as an undergraduate at Mt. Holyoke College in an attempt to update the traditional Vietnamese ghost stories her grandmother had told her to incorporate the more relevant ghosts of the aftermath of the Vietnam War on a generation of displaced Vietnamese immigrants as well as those who remained in Vietnam. 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.Fiction or Non-Fiction? Genre?: Fiction. Vietnamese Ghost Stories.
What Lead You To Pick Up This Book?: A combination of a book for a TLC Book Tour and the fact that it is ghost stories and folk tales from Vietnam.
Summarize the Plot: A collection of Vietnamese ghost stories updated from old traditional stories to have the Vietnam War as a background. The stories all seem traditional in general, but there are strange, supernatural elements to each one. Sometimes it would be a while before you found out what they were. Then there were others that you found out about right away. There is enough connection between each story to flow together. And, the first and last story are connected eve more directly than that.
A bit about the stories:
'Boat Story' - A grand-daughter is asking her grandmother about her escape from Vietnam and gets an entirely different story than she is expecting. This story sets the scene for the unusual that was set to come. It ends with the sentence 'Did we ever really escape'. That could be a theme to the collection in many ways. A strange story that cemented my decision that I was going to like this collection.
'Reception' - This is the story that actually takes place at The Frangipani Hotel. (A word that I keep worrying I am going to spell wrong on a side note.) There were scenes in this story that had me laughing. But, like the rest of the collection, there are strange, dark elements. In this story they take the shape of a woman who the receptionist, the main character, finds after she almost floods the bathroom. That's just the beginning of the strangeness. I really liked this story! Even if it had those dark elements, it was actually one of the lighter stories in the collection.
'Skin and Bones' - Two daughters are sent from America to stay with their grandmother in Vietnam over the holidays. It all starts because the younger daughter eats too much and her mother thinks Vietnam food will help. Nothing is as it seems in this story. This was one of my favourites in the collection. It was kind of a Wait... What??? story.
'Little Brother' - In this story a truck driver tells stories from his time on the road. There is one about a shark which is very strange. The other one, though, was almost expected but not at the same time. At this point in the collection you definitely expect weird things to happen, but still... It was kind of another 'what is going on' story. I liked it, but it kind of creeped me out.
'The Red Veil' - I think this story was probably the creepiest one in this collection. It's the story of two sisters whose mother dies and their father remarries. It was the one story in the collection that I really, really wanted to know what happened in more detail. I think it would make a good novel. It really drew me in but I wasn't entirely sure about everything that happened. It is still running around in my head.
'Guests' - This is the story of Mia who had decided to work for the American consulate in Vietnam. Her father doesn't understand why because he has escaped from there and she wants to go back. Her job is to deal with the woman who have been impregnated and then abandoned by American men. In her personal life she has a live-in boyfriend also from America, but things are not going as well as she expects. This launches a counter story that winds up with an ending that I didn't really like all that much. It worked for the story, but, yeah, wish it had ended differently.
'Turning Back' - uh, yeah... This story was weird right from the very beginning! Another story that would make an interesting novel. It was a very intriguing retelling of a story that exists in many forms across many cultures. Definitely a page-turner!
'One-Finger' - A Calligrapher, a Poet, and a Guitarist sit around the Calligrapher's living room. They have been friends for 40 years after serving together in the Vietnam War. Their friendship is about to take a very different turn, though. The Calligrapher's past is about to catch up with him and he has a story to tell his friends. A good story!
'Descending Dragon' - A story that links from the beginning of the collection. It takes place in a Seniors Home. Ms. Nguyen is a very entertaining character! The Vietnam War is coming to visit her in a very real way. It is a great way to end the collection!
I don't read very many short story collections. I am so happy this one worked for me. I really really liked it! If not for the tour, positive reviews would have likely made me add it to my wish list, but I am not sure how likely my reading of it was. It is nice to have an enjoyable experience with something essentially outside of your comfort zone.