Winnie is a Vietnamese American returning to Saigon as a young woman. After settling into a job and starting a relationship with a man called Long, she disappears. Decades before, in 1986, the young daughter of a family living in the highlands of the country, disappears after going into a rubber plantation. This story brings these women’s lives together through Long’s family; ghosts in the form of smoke; and poisonous cobras.
BOOK SNAPS: This book is a puzzle, the solution of which has eluded me. The various strands of the story are too confusing, and I think that the ghost and spirit stories are overdone. The Guardian suggests that the “theme of justice and retribution is buried under the weight of a somewhat overcomplicated polyphonic narrative”. Kirkus thinks that “Kupersmith creates a rich and dazzling spectacle” and also refers to the diversity of genres (horror, humor, and historical fiction). For me there were snatches of humour only in some of the characters’ conversations. The overall effect of the book is definitely not humorous. I agree with Publishers Weekly in the necessity for “multiple pages of maps and dramatis personae at the novel’s opening” to “help ground the reader through this disorienting but captivating opus.”
“Tan was a man of greater ambitions. He had saved up enough of his airport bribes to always lose when he played cards with his captains and major, but he made sure to demonstrate enough skill that they felt pleased with themselves when they won.”
“She let her hand rest on the tree’s ropy trunk. The bark was smooth beneath her fingers. These were the breed of strangling ficus that spent two hundred years braiding their bodies around a host tree, killing it while gradually assuming its form… What she wished, she reflected dreamily, her whole back now leaning against the tree, was for the same thing to happen to her… to encase Old Winnie completely in its cage-like roots and then let her wither away inside.””
Author: Violet Kupersmith