"'How did I get from a life back home, where I finally got over the loneliness from the early death of my parents, where I held a good, respected job, where I was surrounded by family and longtime friends, to this place where I feel utterly alone and useless.'"

In this book, readers travel with Crystal—a dedicated wife and mother—and her family from Pico City to Bangkok after her husband Brian's job with Firstgas relocates him to Thailand. As Crystal navigates the Thai culture and language as well as her husband and children's new routines, she suddenly finds herself alone. With no respite from the social isolation except for Thai language classes and tutoring the family's servant, Nit, Crystal soon finds herself plummeting into a deep depression. When Brian reveals that he has been seeing a masseuse since before his family arrived in Bangkok, Crystal's depression and isolation worsen, so much so that she soon finds herself separated from her family and hospitalized in Houston. As her hospitalization takes a toll on not only her marriage but also her relationship with her children, Crystal discovers the key to healing. With it, her husband and children learn the true meaning of "family."

In this book, the conflicts Americans face when they encounter, live in, or experience new cultures are intimately detailed. The most significant example of this is Brian's encounters with Judi, the masseuse: "Brian rationalized that he wasn't sleeping with Judi, so there was nothing wrong with the relationship." This conversation then segues into the territory of mental health, a subject that many Americans find as taboo as talking openly about one's sex life or religion. The narrative pulls no punches in its recognition of the societal stigma surrounding mental health issues. In fact, at one point, Brian reflects that, according to his upbringing, people had no use for psychiatry. Brian's confession about his relationship with Judi and the social isolation that plagues Crystal combine into a perfect storm that results in Crystal's intense depression.

The novel also poses questions about a woman's autonomy in marriage. Had Crystal remained in Pico City rather than moved to Bangkok, her life and marriage would have been very different. As the doctor treating Crystal reflects, "You lost your self-esteem and purpose." However, Crystal is not the only woman facing such challenges. Readers can easily see Judi and Nit struggling against societal, cultural, and familial expectations in order to maintain their self-awareness. One of the book's main discussions is how the loss of one's sense of self can tie into an absence of purpose and how easily place and environment influence that loss or gain.

Overall, the author writes respectfully of the Thai language and culture, and the conversation about mental health is handled openly yet delicately. By the book's end, readers witness Crystal's (and her family's) healing. As the family members separately overcome seemingly impossible circumstances—Crystal at the hospital in Houston and Brian in Bangkok, caring for the children—readers see the transformative power of understanding, one that transcends words. Because of this, the book transforms from one of conflict and betrayal to one of understanding and healing. Readers of historical fiction will appreciate this book for its focus on a time period when people were less interconnected, and conversations were less open. This book is a worthy read, one ranking with Anne Coray's Lost Mountain: A Novel. This novel might appeal especially to those interested in learning how living cross-culturally can sometimes affect a family.

Runner-Up in the 2021 Eric Hoffer Book Award General Fiction Category

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