A Life of Books: Mai Nardone – Welcome Me To The Kingdom

Welcome Me To The Kingdom by Mai Nardone is an expansive book that features three families from Bangkok in a story that shifts perspectives and spans decades. The characters and settings crafted by Nardone are memorable, realistic, and nuanced. Weaving through the lives of the characters is a treat. This book feels lived in.

Nardone’s writing has appeared in American Short Fiction, Granta, McSweeney’s, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. We asked the author to answer our recurring A Life of Books questionnaire so readers can get to know him.

Is there a book or series that, when you think back, helped define your childhood?

When I was eleven and visiting my American grandmother in the Massachusetts suburbs, we went out to eat at one of these spaghetti-and-meatballs Italian American restaurants. Except I wasn’t eating but finishing the final book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy under the table. I was devastated by the ending. I looked up from the book to find everything the way it had been five minutes previous, before the book’s ending. There was the checkered tablecloth, the vinyl booth seating, the oversized portion, garlic bread, and no one who could understand what had just happened. This was my first experience of understanding the kind of private world reading could give me access to.n

Would you want any children in your life (yours or relatives’) to read those too? Or what’s your philosophy on what children read?

I think every generation needs its own cultural touchstones. I’m not sure the Pullman series would have the same pull on an eleven-year-old today, and that’s fine. Still, who doesn’t want the companionship of their soul incarnated in a fluffy, captive daemon?

Moving to your school years: what book did you read in high school and hated (or skipped reading at all) that you learned you loved later in life?

I had a lot of luck with what we were reading in high school. I remember reading Sawako Ariyoshi’s The Doctor’s Wife and J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace. I loved studying Macbeth, but was entirely unimpressed by King Lear. It wasn’t until I saw the play in a National Theatre Live screening with Simon Russell Beale playing Lear that I was converted.

What about the opposite way? One you loved in your teens, but realized you didn’t love it so much later on?

I loved Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. I read it at a formative time, right as I was making the transition from fantasy into literary fiction. It was also one of the first novels I read that was set in a non-English speaking community but written in English. I’m glad to have read it when I did, but it’s not a book that I would return to today. What was then mysterious and alluring about the writing now strikes me as evasive.

Are there any books that you read while writing your debut that helped shape the direction you took your own book?

There are some short story collections that I return to all the time. Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies was the first story collection that I read cover to cover. I like Annie Proulx’s Close Range for its unrelenting voice, description of place, and scale of its stories. I love the way Stuart Dybek captures childhood in I Sailed with Magellan, a collection that’s linked by characters but also by memories—anecdotes from one story echoing through into another like something overheard or just-recalled. Edward P. Jones’ Lost in the City seemed to pave and populate a neighborhood of Washington D.C. one story at a time. I’ve also read everything Tessa Hadley has written. She has an excellent instinct for when a change in point of view or a jump in time can transform a short story.

What is a book you’ve read that you thought, Damn, I wish that was mine?

I admire what Sarah Shun Lien Bynum achieved in her story collection Likes. I’ve been a fan of hers since I read Ms. Hempel Chronicles, but I think the variety in a short story collection gave her room to be more playful, creative, and strange. The final story in the collection is a masterclass in manipulating point of view.

What have you been reading / do you plan to read during your debut book tour?

I’m reading Jasmine Sawers’ flash fiction collection, The Anchored World. The first book I picked up on arriving back in the States was Gothataone Moeng’s Call and Response.

And, finally, I have to ask… I’m sorry. What’s next? But wait! Only use three words.

Crazy rich Asians.

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