Vietnamese Legends: Background information when reading The Frangipani Hotel

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Frangipani Hotel

Stories

by Violet Kupersmith

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2014, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2015, 256 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Vietnamese Legends

Print Review

As evidenced in The Frangipani Hotel, Vietnam abounds with mythology and ghost stories. In the country's creation myth, Dragon Lord Lạc Long Quân and his fairy wife, Au Cợ, hatched their 100 children from eggs, giving rise to Vietnam's 100 family surnames. Lạc Long Quân had an undersea palace at the southern coast, but Au Cợ and 50 children stayed in the northern mountains, thus peopling the country's two distinct terrains. In Kupersmith's story "Red Veil," Sister Emmanuel recounts this legend before embarking on her personal history: "I will start at the very beginning—the beginning we all were taught as children. Thousands of years ago, a dragon prince and a fairy spirit fell in love..." Thus Vietnam's primal story paves the way for all the magical tales to come.

Illustration of Vietnamese legend The Communist government discourages belief in spirits, and is suspicious of shrines. Still, Vietnamese folk religion, including ancestor worship, thrives. Ghosts (con ma), whether friendly or malevolent, are wandering souls who suffered untimely death away from home; "good death" can only occur if one is surrounded by family members and given correct burial rites. Souls need to take particular objects into the afterlife with them, such as clothing and sticky rice. "Ghost money" (joss paper) is burned alongside incense in prayerful homage.

The ancestors may be benevolent, but angry ghosts abound. Tree ghosts curse those who cut down trees without permission, and there are tales of ma doi, hungry ghosts who wander the country as robbers. At road turnings where there have been accidents, ghosts are thought to leap out and frighten drivers into crashing. The Vietnamese horror film, Muoi: The Legend of a Portrait (2007), tells of a vengeful ghost and a haunted portrait. In a war-torn country where thousands are still classed as 'MIA,' it is not surprising that soldier ghosts are thought to be everywhere. Many lie in unmarked graves, until remains can be exhumed and given funerals.

Hạ Long Bay Honoring ancestors is an important obligation, even for those Vietnamese living abroad. Off Highway 1A, between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) – the very route the trucker travels in Kupersmith's story "Little Brother" – lies what has become known as the "City of Ghosts" or "City of Tombs." This necropolis, covering a sandy plain about twelve miles east of Hue, is full of huge, ornate mausoleums. Many were paid for by the boat people of the 1970s and 1980s, who left their homeland for a better life in the West.

Hạ Long Bay, one of Vietnam's most popular destinations, is an idyllic cluster of 2,000 limestone islands. Yet it, too, has known its share of tragedy: in September 2009 and February 2012, excursion boats sank, killing 12 and five tourists, respectively. The site's name means "descending dragon bay," evoking the myth of how the islands formed when a dragon fell from the sky. In Kupersmith's "Descending Dragon," a lonely elderly woman decides to recreate this very myth to get her family's attention. The Frangipani Hotel is richly imbued with Vietnam's legendary history.

Picture of legend recreation from Vietnam Surprise
Picture of tourist boats in Ha Long Bay by Disdero from Wikipedia.org

Article by Rebecca Foster

This article was originally published in April 2014, and has been updated for the February 2015 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access become a member today.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: New People
    New People
    by Danzy Senna
    Danzy Senna has spent virtually her entire writing career exploring the complicated intersections of...
  • Book Jacket: Hunger
    Hunger
    by Roxane Gay
    In this penetrating and fearless memoir, author Roxane Gay discusses her battle with body acceptance...
  • Book Jacket: The Black Witch
    The Black Witch
    by Laurie Forest
    In The Black Witch, Laurie Forest introduces her readers to an immersive fantasy world where ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt

Cruel Beautiful World examines the intricate, infinitesimal distance between seduction and love, loyalty and duty.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Young Jane Young
    by Gabrielle Zevin

    From the author of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry comes a novel that will have everyone talking.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Hame

Hame by Annalena McAfee

A rich, sultry novel about a young American fleeing a crumbling marriage for a remote Scottish island.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A F Out O W

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.