In Violet Kupersmith’s novel, a young woman goes missing in Saigon

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BUILD YOUR HOME AROUND MY BODY
By Violet Kupersmith

The day after I finished reading “Build Your House Around My Body,” my son pulled a ball of putty through a long rope and declared it a two-headed snake. A two-headed cobra appears throughout the novel, both a creature and a symbol, linking the characters in the novel and connecting its realistic and supernatural elements. Watching my son, I got the feeling that Violet Kupersmith’s weird and electric debut novel was spreading beyond the page limits and seeping into my life. That’s the power of this novel: it followed me through my days, refusing to release me.

Following the collection of Kupersmith stories from 2014, “The Frangipani Hotel”, “Build Your House Around My Body” is itself built around Winnie, a 22 year old American (her mother is white, her father Vietnamese) who moves to Saigon to teach English. to the Accomplishment! International Academy of Languages. Winnie arrives in Vietnam with a blank slate: “She had brought with her a passport, two sets of clean clothes and her own flesh. She would get everything else. She hopes to gain from her stay in the country nothing less than a new me, “a better me, a Banyan me,” Kupersmith writes, “to completely enclose Old Winnie in her cage-like network of roots, then leave her. wither inside. “

Instead, she languishes. She neglects her teaching, doesn’t befriend, drinks too much, has terrible sex with a drunken policeman she meets in the bathroom of a karaoke bar. Eventually, she seeks refuge with Long, a member of the Achievement staff! Their relationship isn’t about romance or even connection, but mutual exchange, and this only exacerbates the angst of the two characters: Long takes care of Winnie, who is in desperate need of care. In return, Winnie becomes “the Mouth”, giving Long sexual pleasure. When the novel opens, Long has returned home to find Winnie missing.

His disappearance forms the trunk of the novel, from which it ramifies widely and wildly (the first issue contains a list of characters and several maps), stretching from Saigon to the highlands, from the French colonial occupation to the current tourist economy. . It’s a story full of supernatural events. A fortune teller can open his jaw wide enough to turn around. A woman’s yellow eyes roam the outside of her body. There is a menacing copper smoke, this two-headed cobra and numerous examples of spirits inhabiting other bodies. As a human consciousness occupying the body of a stray dog ​​explains, “Think of it this way: your body is a motorcycle. You drive it. Me, in my little doggy body, it’s more like someone riding a bicycle. But the two of us can sort of … commercial vehicles if we want to.

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