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February 25, 2023

Welcome Me to the Kingdom by Mai Nardone ~ a Review

by MK French

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.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

book cover of literary novel Welcome Me to the Kingdom by Mai Nardone
February 2023; Random House; 978-0593498187
audio, ebook, print (288 pages); literary fiction

Welcome Me to the Kingdom
 spans decades and multiple POVs. 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 and 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. 

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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