Welcome Me to the Kingdom
by Mai Nardone
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Pub Date 14 Feb 2023 | Archive Date 30 Jun 2023
Random House Publishing Group - Random House, Random House
“Mai Nardone is a writer with an atlas straight to the heart. I did not want to put this book down and neither will you.”—C Pam Zhang, bestselling author of How Much of These Hills Is Gold
We came with the drought. From the window of the train, the rich brown of the Chao Phraya River marked the turn from the northeast into the central plains. We came for Bangkok on the delta. The thin tributaries that laced the provinces found full current at the capital. And in the city, we’d heard, the wealth was wide and deep.
In 1980, young lovers Pea and Nam arrive in Bangkok in search of a life, and a world, beyond Thailand’s rural outskirts. Thirty days, they promise each other. Thirty days for Pea to find work, for him to put aside his violent and unstable past and take root in this strange new land. But Bangkok does not want for male laborers, especially teenage boys with thick provincial accents, and when time finally runs out on their promise, it’s Nam who ultimately adapts to the capital’s ruthless logic and survives.
Spanning decades and perspectives, seamlessly shifting between the absurd and the tenderhearted, the interwoven stories of Welcome Me to the Kingdom introduce three families—Nam, her American husband, Rick, and their daughter, Lara; Vitat, a Thai Elvis impersonator, and his only daughter, Pinky; and Tintin and Benz, orphans who have adopted each other as brothers—who employ various schemes to lie, betray, and seduce their way to the “good life.”
These disparate citizens of Bangkok orbit each other over the next three decades—sometimes violently, passionately colliding. Through skin-whitening routines, cult conversion, gambling, and sex work, the collection’s characters look for reinvention in a city buckling under the weight of its own modernity.
Wildly imaginative and ambitious, Mai Nardone’s stories reveal the growing discrepancy between Bangkok’s smiling self-image and its ugly underbelly, and, in the process, offer a striking portrait of a city unmade by the whims of global capitalism, in a kingdom caught between this world and the next.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 61 members
This novel was written well and seamlessly transitioned from each character's perspective from three different families in freshly laid out snippets of their lives. The families, struggles, and settings were also unique to the main plot but were woven together like a fine tapestry.
My only issue with the book as a while was that I felt as if I needed more from each family and wasn’t one-hundred percent involved in their struggles as their backstories weren’t as developed as I would have liked. Less is usually more, but in this case, I needed a bit more substance to complete each story within the novel.
Overall, this book was a joy to read, and I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys an immersive novel with a complex cast of characters.
The publisher provided ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Thank you to NetGalley, Mai Nardone, and Random House for the ARC.
Like anyone on this site, reading is one of my true loves in life. I also cherish sleep, however. Lately, I've found these two loves clashing, my lids falling heavy as I attempt to plow forward in a novel. My bedtime keeps creeping up earlier and earlier, soon to rival my grandmother's habits.
This is all to say that Mai Nardone deserves a more dedicated reader for his excellent debut, Welcome Me to the Kingdom. Even with my sleep-fuzzed brain, I kept chugging away, reading ten pages a night because the writing is so damn good. The character development is pristine, the sheer scope of the novel is intimidating, and the prose is imbued with an unimpeachable swagger.
I probably missed a few connections with my choppy reading style, but the book left an impression on me nonetheless. Pick this one up!