Lily Narcissus

Author: Jonathan Lerner
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They thought they were going to Asia for two years. Asia beguiled them, and they never left

In 1957, Lily and Sid Norell and their teenagers Lauren and Jordy move from Washington to Taipei. Sid is an eager new Foreign Service Officer. Taipei then was impoverished and unpaved. Shocked at first, Lily is soon enchanted by the foreignness, moved by the poverty, amused by the eccentric whirl of diplomats and expats around her, and charmed by debonair Rocky Perreira. Also a U.S. diplomat, he seems to live freely like no one she has ever known.

Lily makes unexpected new friends, discovers a passion in protecting orphans, and becomes a deft and acclaimed hostess. Thriving, she and Sid move on to Foreign Service postings in Saigon, then Bangkok and eventually Jakarta. Meanwhile Jordy grows up to be a Navy pilot, fighting in Vietnam. He participates in and is traumatized by the disastrous war-end evacuation of Saigon. Lauren too gets entangled with that war; it starts her career as a refugee worker. Decades later Lauren, reading letters Lily wrote during those first years in Taipei, fills in her mother’s elisions. What was wrong with Jordy, so often in trouble? Were Rocky and Sid both CIA? And were Rocky and Lily lovers? Why did the family spin apart, and how did Lily herself make that happen?

This is the story of a woman who confronts a challenging new situation and seizes the chance to powerfully reinvent herself-while her family slowly disintegrates.

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