cover image Welcome Me to the Kingdom

Welcome Me to the Kingdom

Mai Nardone. Random House, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-593-49818-7

In Nardone’s elegant debut collection, characters seek love, belonging, and a means of survival in Bangkok. With assured prose and an appreciation for the details of everyday life, the author evokes a city that is merciless, crowded, and alienating. In the first story, “Labor,” a young couple from the provinces moves to the city in 1980. There, Nam gives her boyfriend, Pea, a 30-day deadline to “make them a living.” In “What You Bargained For,” Rick, an American tourist fresh off a divorce, meets Nam at a bar. “Women are meant to be Thai,” his buddy Phil, a frequent visitor to Thailand, tells him. Later stories feature Rick and Nam’s daughter, Lara, who grows up attending international school and never quite feels at home in either culture. In the title story, Lara, having dropped out of a grad program in the U.S., learns how to make money gambling from another Thai expatriate, a senior citizen named Mrs. Anwar. Other characters come from a different social stratum: Benz, an enterprising street urchin, and Poongping, whose father’s family fled from the “purges of the Cultural Revolution” in China. Nardone’s knack for cataloging the many ways in which life can disappoint is a highlight of each of these nuanced entries. This author has talent to burn. (Feb.)