“The Frangipani Hotel”

I picked this book up thinking it was a novel.  It turned out to be a collection of short stories by a new young writer, Violet Kupersmith.  All nine stories are set in post-war Vietnam or have a Vietnamese connection.  Kuperman’s mother was a former boat refugee from Vietnam, and she herself  received a Fulbright Fellowship to teach and research in the Mekong Delta.

The stories are based on traditional Vietnamese folktales related to the author by her grandmother.  Although all of the stories take place after the Vietnamese War, all of the characters were influenced by its events.  Each story has an eerie, unsettling quality.  Ordinarily, I would not be interested in this type of literature, but once I began to read a story, I had to finish it.  Superstition and the supernatural all play an important part in the unfolding of these tales.  A man who turns into a snake, a water nymph, who is always thirsty, resides at the Frangipani Hotel, a cat that bedevils a young woman, an overweight teenager who is bewitched by a food vendor, these are some of the subjects of this stories in this collection.

The book jacket states that Kupersmith is currently working on a novel.  I would be interested in reading this future work to see how she might expand on the characters and events that she created for this short story collection.






Humans of New York

This is a book of photography by Brandon Stanton. He walked New York streets for several years photographing and interviewing people. Lots of kids pictures that I liked a lot. And lots of tattoos and strangely dressed adults that were kind of scary.

I remember seeing strange people on New York streets like Moondog, but I don’t think any were as intimidating as in this book. I must have expected more of a general mix of people. Incredibly outlandish outfits. It’s worth a quick perusal to see what we miss, living in the suburbs.


As a big fan of anything that Judi Dench is in, I was eager to see “Philomena.” It is based on the true story of Philomena Lee’s search for her son.  The film begins in the 1950s.  A very innocent Philomena has a child out of wedlock.  Left at the convent by her father, she is treated very severely by the nuns.  She works in the laundry to pay for her and her child’s keep.   Without her consent, he is adopted by an American couple.

She kept the secret of his birth from her daughter for fifty years.  Eventually, she convinces her mother to search for her son.  With the help of Martin Sixsmith, a journalist/writer, Philomena travels to the US and continues her quest.

“Philomena” is a well-written and well-acted movie.  Steve Coogan plays Sixsmith, a man who does not believe in the Church or God.  Philomena in spite of her great loss harbors no animosity against the Church or the sisters at the convent.

What could have been a very soapy story, “Philomena” rises above maudlin sentimentality.  Dench, Coogan, and director Stephen Frears have created an engrossing story of great loss and great forgiveness.

Two other movies with similar themes of children mistreated by the Church are “Magdalene Sisters, also set in Ireland, and “Oranges and Sunshine,” which is also a true story set in England and Australia.


The Paris Architect

By Charles Belfoure, the setting is WWII occupied Paris. Architect Lucien Bernard doesn’t really care about what’s happening to the French Jews when he is asked by a wealthy French industrialist to design hiding places for them in homes he owns until they can be smuggled to freedom. He knows it’s dangerous but he needs the work. Soon he is designing war plants for the Germans AND more hiding places. His wife leaves him, calling him a traitor. His feelings shift through circumstances that are a little formulaic. He’s given a Jewish orphan to protect and he makes a good friend of the German officer who has given him the industrial work. This man helps him to escape to Switzerland with his lover and the two children she has taken in. So it makes for a tidy ending. Not terrifically original writing but it does raise questions on what will  influence a person to change.