As humans, we are often haunted by our past lives, our self-doubts, and our traumas. These ghosts slither into our self-consciousness when we least expect it, worming themselves into thoughts, which turn into actions—which then turn to consequences.
In Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith, Belletrist + Bookclub’s August pick, readers are taken into the bustling underbelly of Saigon, where they are overtaken with the smells, the heat, and the constant crowded bustle of a metropolis that never stops moving.
Kupersmith’s story begins with Winnie, a young American-Vietnamese woman who arrives in Vietnam to teach English at a school in Saigon, hoping to find a sense of identity in her Asian roots and shed the self-doubt that became a part of her in the US. But instead of blossoming, Winnie begins to wither away, grasping at various coping mechanisms for stability and questioning her sanity, making the reader do so as well. Then one night, she disappears without a trace.
But this isn’t the first circumstance in which a young woman has disappeared from the area under mysterious circumstances. Twenty-five years prior, another young woman in the highlands vanished into the thick forest of a rubber tree plantation, setting off a cataclysm of paranormal activity and strange coincidences that all seem to stem from the roots of the rubber trees. To make sense of the disappearances, Kupersmith guides readers through a story that unfolds in a kaleidoscope of timelines and characters, constantly evolving and changing but weaving pieces of themselves for the other characters to pick up along the haunting timeline.
Though the events of the book occur across different timelines, a commonality the characters experience is discomfort within their own skin, whether it be through a sense of not belonging or that they aren’t good enough to meet the standards set forth by others. Many of the characters are bi-racial, which leads to a sense of not knowing where they belong. This coincides with the trauma Vietnam is still reeling from as an effect of imperialism. When the French colonized Vietnam in the 1880s, they justified their imperialism as a “civilizing mission” to develop nations they thought to be aberrant and uncivilized.
On BookClub, Kupersmith explains how the trauma wrought by colonialism was one of the inspirations behind her ghost story of a book. “I wanted colonialism to be the biggest, and worst ghost. I kind of think of the book as this big haunted house, and in this haunted house, the main spook in the basement that you hear bumping around, that’s colonialism,” Kupersmith shared in an exclusive conversation with Belletrist + BookClub hosts Emma Roberts and Karah Preiss.
The conversation between Kupersmith, Roberts, and Preiss covers everything from how Kupersmith wrote the book, to trauma to their real life experiences with ghosts. “I like to be prepared,” Roberts said, referencing ghosts and her time filming in New Orleans. “I was the only person that didn’t have something very bizarre happen to them.” Armed with advice from Kupersmith’s grandmother, anyone who watches the discussion is bound to have only good experiences with ghosts in the future.
Join Belletrist + BookClub to watch Kupersmith, Roberts, and Preiss’ full conversation on the trauma of colonization, the Vietnamese-American experience, and the spooky secrets of the book that Kupersmith describes as having “a lot of layers,” and dive deeper into the book through discussion guides, with questions from Kupersmith herself, and live audio conversations with other readers.
We think that Build Your House Around My Body is a novel that will haunt you in the best possible way. Let us know if it kept you up at night by tagging us @bookclubdotcom and using #bookclubapp and #belletristbookclub. We can’t wait to hear if you were just as spooked as we were.