Even though I came of age during the Viet Nam anti-war movement, I realize now that I never really learned much about the country or its history. Reading Ocean Vuong’s exquisite novel opened me up to a desire to read more Vietnamese writers. I was prompted to read the two novels by Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen after hearing him interviewed on Democracy Now at the time of the mass shooting of the Asian American women in Atlanta. I recommend The Sympathizer and Committed. Nguyen’s third novel in the series has yet to be published. The novels are compelling, and Nguyen is a fine writer. These two authors paved the way for Build Your House Around My Body. I learned about Kupersmith and her novel when I listened to Violet Kupersmith interviewed on a zoom “book tour.”
This is a complex story that travels back and forth through time and space from colonial Viet Nam through the Viet Nam War and into the present. It is a mystery/thriller/horror story all in one full of ghosts and paranormal events that tie the fate of the novel’s characters into a single narrative that lies outside the expected experience of time and space. The story centers around a young women born in the U.S. to Vietnamese parents; she travels to Viet Nam to remake herself. The central event is her disappearance. The chapters reference time with respect to the disappearance—the day of the disappearance, 60 years before the disappearance, two days after the disappearance….I marveled at how this creative young author was able to hold all the pieces of this complex tale together and forge an ending that, in the end, proved the twists and turns of the plot were under her talented control.
The power of ghosts in Vietnamese culture is reflected in the works of Vuong, Nguyen, and Kupersmith. Kupersmith said in her interview that she often scared herself as she wrote the novel. Snakes play a major role, and snakes terrify her. I think she also said that at one point she had to give her friend her computer overnight for fear that what she had created in her imagination might literally come to life in her apartment!
I’m sure some of the complexities of Build Your House escaped me. I could certainly benefit from reading it again.