Cover Image: Welcome Me to the Kingdom

Welcome Me to the Kingdom

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Member Reviews

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it was not this. The book is a set of short stories that span several decades and three families, but I had a hard time keeping track of whose story I was reading and how it connected with the other stories. It took me a few stories to realize that some of the characters in one story were in another story, but because the stories kept jumping from one family to another and from one time period to another, I had a hard time trying to figure out the connections that I think were definitely there. The stories were also in many cases depressing and tragic and I had a hard time making myself come back to the book time and time again. The book covers many serious topics, including colonialism, sex workers, sex trafficking, drug addiction, alcoholism, poverty, cults, child abuse, domestic abuse, orphans, class disparities, corruption, and so much more. I wanted to like this a lot more than I did, but I had a hard time finding any of the characters compelling, perhaps because they would show up and disappear only to reappear later. While the themes were very clear and focused, the stories of the characters felt all over the place.

Overall, I appreciate what the book was trying to do, but the execution just didn't do it for me.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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I absolutely loved Mai Nardone's "Welcome Me to the Kingdom." An anthology novel with short stories that connect to each other, each chapter brings to life another year and another moment in time of the lives of ordinary people. These people, whom Nardone has chosen to feature, are all interwoven and connected in some way, but it is only throughout time and experience that brings them together.

Meticulously and brilliantly written, "Welcome Me to the Kingdom" is a collection of short stories, yet also a novel of one story. I highly enjoyed it and recommend it to all.

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Woefully little Thai literature has been available to readers of English. Now Mai Nardone, the son of a Thai father and English mother and who lives in Bangkok, has contributed Welcome Me to the Kingdom. This collection of seventeen short stories brings modern-day Bangkok to life.

Spanning the years from 1974 to 2016, the stories appear largely in chronological order but with the final two out of sequence—with 2016 followed by 1974 and 2014. Nardone has his reasons.

The author opens with a brief prologue. People identified only as “we” arrive by train from the northern drought, attracted to the riches of the capital city but armed with talismans to protect them from failed expectations. Banners on the station walls address the many tourists flocking to the city where they have been promised happy days. “Take Home a Thousand Smiles,” the banners proclaim. Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles.
If readers expect a thousand smiles, Nardone will quickly prove them wrong.

“Labor “ and What You Bargained For,” the opening stories set in 1980, include an unmarried teenage couple newly arrived from the north and struggling to make their way in the big city. In “Labor,” Pea reveals that he intends to support Nam, but, if he had the protective talismans, they don’t help. By “What You Bargained For,” Nam has found the way to earn money although her method sends Pea into a rage. Rick, a middle-aged American tourist, has entered the picture.

Although Nardone captivated me with his writing style in the prologue, I was disappointed with the sparse writing in the first two stories. However, he may have purposefully changed styles to reflect the two teen’s desperate lives. “Pink Youth,” the third story won me over again with its writing style despite its own dark subject matter. Divided between stark realism and magical realism, “Pink Youth” begins with Nam’s arrival for an abortion appointment but focuses much more on Hasmah, a Muslim abortionist in fear of being captured by the police. Once a midwife in the Muslim south, she has migrated northward and changed professions as a result of her sorrowful backstory and out of a sense of revenge. At the center of the story, Hasmah is a haunted woman. Nam now serves little purpose other than to tie this story to the first two and to several subsequent stories in the collection.

If a few characters’ names, such as Pea and Benz, strike readers as strange, those readers should be aware of the oddity of many Thai nicknames, at least as they sound to American ears when translated into English. As the host mother of three past Thai exchange students and volunteer with an exchange program, I can attest to the frequency of nicknames like these. In fact, although English speakers might assume Nam is an ordinary Thai name, one of our Thai daughters explained that her mother nicknamed Nam (“Water” in English) because her first daughter was as important to her as water is to all humanity

Nardone’s varied writing style caught me off guard but perhaps demonstrates his ability to change styles as he sees fit--as a means of telling different stories. Certainly, he proves highly capable of providing insights into sides of Thai culture that most tourists do not experience. His new book will open many readers’ eyes.

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for an advance reader copy of this valuable contribution to Thai literature.

Shared on Barnes and Noble.

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If you love beautiful prose and interconnected short stories, look no further! I was pulled in by the prose of these stories from page one. It is really beautiful and compelling. I appreciated getting so many perspectives of Thailand across time, place, gender, age, and class. However, I lost interest in some of the characters as the stories went on. I wish the stories were either more or less interconnected, if that makes sense? The in-between made it hard to follow their connections and care deeply about them. I still really liked this book, it just fell a little short of love for me. I can’t believe it’s a debut! I will definitely be looking forward to anything else this author puts out in the future.

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Nardone's collection of stories explore the seedy streets of Bangkok where survival is of utmost importance. We follow a cast of characters all with their own troubles and dreams as they make decisions and moves to secure a brighter future for themselves.

Throughout each story we see how friendships can evolve and cross into the sexual, relationships between parents and children become strained and estranged, underlying resentments between close relatives and friends cause relational damage. All throughout lurks the lights, alleys, riches, and despair of Bangkok. The threshold of respectability and identity always shifting yet always leaving the same disenfranchised begind.

There are bonds formed that carry through from boyhood to adulthood, saprophytic, taking what they need and parasitic where one party takes with no intention of supporting or reciprocating. As the reader links the characters who move from story to story, there was a certain cohesion lacking where the relationship and its foundation felt weak, as if that person did not get the opportunity to develop in that particular setting.

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The devastating financial crisis of 1997 is the pivot point for three families in Thailand. One is an Elvis impersonator and his only daughter, one family is abandoned by their white American father when the economy isn't as easy as he thought it would be, and one is a brotherhood of orphaned boys struggling to reach a better life. Sex tourism and Buddhist cults complicate the landscape and opportunities for people caught in an endless cycle dictated by the class they were born in.

This book spans decades and multiple POV's. We meet different families at time points before and after the crash of 1997. Bangkok is teeming with people looking for work, and for women it's often easier to turn to sex work to make ends meet. For Nam, she has a baby when her American husband doesn't want another child, and he's emotionally absent even as she takes their daughter Lara to temple and she self harms thinking that it will repay the wrongs done to her parents with her birth. Ping's family had emigrated from China and her father valued the old ways and keeping up appearances in the neighborhood at all costs. About a third of the way into the novel, we meet the boys trying to eke out a living on their own. We also meet the Elvis impersonator's daughter Pinky, who is brought into sex work and meets Lara's father there, and briefly roomed with Ping as she attended high school.

The characters might not always know of the other lives they touched on, but the reader does. As big as Bangkok is, the interconnected stories show us the class system of sorts, the opportunity that money, color, accent, or connections bring to people. It's sad and humbling, watching them stumble through their lives, trying to find meaning, betterment, and belonging, but falling short. The chapters are episodic in nature, and each speaks to longing and a need for connecting with others, being understood. It's almost melancholy, particularly toward the end and closer to our present day. The Kingdom is different yet the same for each of the characters, a hunger for better. We can easily feel that in common with them, and hope they find it after we finish the book.

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Although this book seemed to be one I was looking forward to reading, the writing style seemed jumbled and the characters popped up in multiple stories, leading to a bit of confusion. The descriptive views of Thailand may have saved this book, but not for me...only my opinion.

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Thank you to NetGalley & Random House Publishing Group for the arc.

When I received a copy of this book I was very excited based on the premise. As I started reading, I found myself to be more and more disappointed.

The book consists of short stories spanning multiple decades involving many characters. Each time I started a new story/chapter, I felt like I was trying to play catch up figuring out who was who and what is going on in the story. We would learn about one character in one story, then wouldn't read about them again until a decade had passed four chapters later. The characters also bleed into each other's chapters so it was hard to determine who the chapter was supposed to belong to.

The only reason that I gave this book two stars as opposed to one, is that I found the author's writing to be pleasant, even if the story they were telling was confusing. I think this book would have been better as one story focused on a few of the more interesting characters. There was just too much going on.

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Book Summary:

Three families are struggling to survive and find their path forward in life. Given the events of the world, this is easier said than done. Their stories are set shortly after the 1997 financial crisis, which means everyone is struggling to find security and their place in the world.

Set in Bangkok, Welcome Me to the Kingdom promises to be a look into several families and their journey through this time.

My Review:

I've got to admit, Welcome Me to the Kingdom is one of those books that makes you stop and think. I loved the storytelling format, as it wraps three different families and their journeys into one larger tale.

When I first picked Welcome Me to the Kingdom, I wasn't sure if it would be a collection of short stories or a more cohesive tale. I'm thrilled with what I found inside (though I love anthologies, don't get me wrong!). In a way, this book is unlike anything I've read before. Therefore, I highly recommend keeping an eye on what Mai Nardone comes up with next.

Literary Fiction
Three Families
Battle for Survival

Trigger Warnings:
Financial Crisis of 1997
Sex Work

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I read this book because I had no knowledge of the city/history of Bangkok. It was a real eye opener. We follow different families over 3 decades and their quest for the good life! Lots of lies, deception and just plain horrible living conditions.

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Not gonna lie, I was hesitant? worried to pick this up when I realized it was a short story collection because short stories can be such huge hits or misses - as a whole and story by story. But I was pleasantly surprised that while this isnt a ... traditional chronological novel, we followed the same handful of characters throughout their life. This is perfect for fans of The Family Izquierdo by Ruben Degollado (one of my favorite books of 2022) because it has a similar structure and feel to it. Despite only following each character for 2-3 chapters of the book, you really get a feel for their life, relationships, homes, etc.

I really enjoyed the discussion/ongoing conflict of "we can make our lives the way we want it" vs. "this is our destiny, fate has brought us to this point (good or bad, but mostly bad)" throughout the story and how people's "fate" depend so heavily on inheritance, capital - social and financial - and simply the color of their skin.

I admittedly don't know a lot about Thai history, culture, socio-political sentiments but this book gave me a peek of that and I'd definitely plan to learn more!

Thank you NetGalley for an early copy!

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Welcome me to the kingdom follows several people in Thailand through many generations. I found the storylines hard to follow. It was hard keeping track of who was who. A lot of the story is implied so the reader must have knowledge of cultural norms to understand. It was interesting but tough.

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Welcome Me To The Kingdom was rich and lush in setting. The author did such an amazing job transporting you to Bangkok and I really loved that aspect of the book. I did find it a little hard to follow along with at times, because there are many characters and the story seemed to abruptly change. Overall, I liked the book and would read more from this author!

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WELCOME ME TO THE KINGDOM by Mia Nardone was not the story I expected. Cardboard, predictable characters with the usual array of pathos, plaints, and terrible problems, the grinding horrible situations did not shine in a story told in the "You" voice as in "you are here and" -- I didn't notice it at first, but it grew annoying when the past was present and it wasn't clear if there would ever be redemption for a single one of these terribly broken individuals. I expected Thai and complex, difficult conundrums, but even the earnest, hardworking and ever-resourceful Namh was not enough to keep me exploring impenetrable jungle, rice fields, and bleak cities. I received a copy of this book and these opinions are my own, unbiased thoughts.

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Welcome to Bangkok, a city of temples that welcomes tourism. There is also another side of Bangkok that is seen through the eyes of Mai Nardone’s characters who are just trying to survive. It is a city of gambling, drugs and where cheer beer girls work the bars. This is the city where Pea and Nam, arriving from the northern provinces, hoped to find a home. Pinky, the daughter of an Elvis impersonator, Tintin and Benz, living in a juvenile home, and Lara, Nam’s daughter, all experience highs and lows as they try to find their place in society.

From 1980 to 2014 Nardone alternates the stories of his well-developed characters as they grow. My only problem with this book was that I would be following the story of one character when the focus would change to another character. When the original character would return several years would have passed and their situation would have changed. This sometimes made it a challenge to follow. This was, however, a story with characters that stay with you long after you have finished reading, making it well worth spending time with Welcome Me to the Kingdom. I would like to thank NetGalley and Random House for providing this book for my review.

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A collection of interconnected stories to tell the seedy underworld of life in Bangkok. The writing is gorgeous, but the stories are depressing. We visit the same characters over and over again, although at different points in their lives. I admire the perseverance of the characters, but none really stood out for me.

"Orbiting the devastating financial crisis of 1997, these interwoven stories introduce us to three families--a Thai Elvis impersonator and his only daughter, a family abandoned by their white American patriarch, and an adoptive brotherhood of oprhaned boys--who employ various schemes and strategies to conceal, betray, lie, and seduce their way to achieving the "good" life.

Sex tourism and Buddhist cults threaten to overtake the nation while Elvis impersonators compete for their respective legacies. A spirit medium channels southern Thailand's secessionist anger into her bloody but essential work. Two strivers, down on their luck in the midst of the recession, enter a cock-fighting tournament with a legendary bird. An American leaves his family and expatriates to Bangkok, sold on the idea of an easy country--then abandons it when the Thai economy is upended. And in a city where class is fate, two friends volunteer as first responders to accumulate karmic merit toward their next lives."

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the free ARC in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

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Welcome Me to the Kingdom follows a cast of characters centred around the financial crisis of 1997.

Spanning decades, this collection of loosely connected stories follows several characters navigating life in Thailand.

I thought I would love this book, but it never fully captured my attention. By the time one chapter was getting interesting, it would end, and the next would focus on other characters in later years that were often less compelling.

The writing style is very frank and holds nothing back. It covers a range of heavy topics, including sex workers, cults, class disparities, child abuse, and more.

I did enjoy the setting. It is vibrant and easy to visualize. And there were some delicious-sounding descriptions of food.

Thank you to Random House for granting my wish via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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I'm finding it challenging to describe Welcome Me to the Kingdom. It's not quite a short story collection or a full length novel. It's in this odd position of being in between and that's partly why it wasn't a satisfying read. The short stories aren't strong enough to stand out on their own. Even though characters pop up in various stories throughout the book, it was hard keeping track of some of them. By the end I felt like I had missed out on whatever I was supposed to gain from the reading experience.

Thailand is the setting and that allowed the writer to touch on various issues within that country. My interest level was high for about 3/4 of the book but it plummeted in the home stretch. That's the point in which I realized I was getting bits and pieces of intriguing storylines that don't really go anywhere.

The potential was here for a great read but it didn't quite get there for me.

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"Welcome Me to the Kingdom" by Mai Nardone is a brutally honest collection of stories, set in mostly the slums of Thailand. Upsetting realities, cruel lives, and great efforts to rise above, this novel was well woven, bringing together characters throughout their lives and the generations. Thank you NetGalley, the author and publisher for the early review copy. All opinions are my own.

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I could not get into Welcome Me to the Kingdom and did not finish it. I didn't get past the first chapter.

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