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.
Advance Praise for "Lily Narcissus"
"Lily Narcissus is at once intimate family portrait and panoramic world history that tracks the disastrous consequences of America's involvement in Asia in the second half of the 20th century. With precision and restraint, Lerner illuminates some essential mystery at the heart of other people and our understanding of them. It's beautiful, wise, lucid, and disarming. I was seduced, then devastated." -Andrew Palmer, author of The Bachelor
Jonathan Lerner, born in 1948, grew up in Washington, D.C., with the exception of two years in the late fifties when his father, a Foreign Service officer, was posted to Taipei. That experience, and the journeys there and back which took his family literally around the world, primed a lifelong addiction to travel. It was also the germ for his new novel LILY NARCISSUS.
Lerner matriculated at Antioch College in 1965, but dropped out two years later and immersed himself in New Left activism, joining the staff of Students for a Democratic Society. His early writing experiences were producing SDS publications and contributing to other counterculture and "underground" newspapers. In 1969 he helped found the breakaway SDS faction the Weatherman. That became the clandestine and cult-like Weather Underground, which carried out a campaign of bombings. These experiences—and the challenges of being a young man struggling with his gay identity in a macho group culture—informed both Lerner's novel ALEX UNDERGROUND and his memoir SWORDS IN THE HANDS OF CHILDREN.
"When I stopped trying to be a full-time revolutionary, in the mid-seventies, I embraced my calling to be a full-time writer," Lerner says. His first novel, CAUGHT IN A STILL PLACE, was published in 1989. Meanwhile he had begun establishing what became a successful career as a magazine writer and editor. Early on he wrote mostly travel stories, typically with a design or historic preservation angle. Later he concentrated on topics including architecture, urban planning, and issues of natural resources and sustainability. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Metropolis, The Architect's Newspaper and numerous other publications. He has been a contributing editor at Landscape Architecture Magazine for the last decade.
During the eighties Lerner lived in various parts of Florida, and after that for 21 years in Atlanta. In 2011 he moved to New York's Hudson Valley, to live with Peter Frank, a philanthropist and community activist, whom he married in 2015.
"Lily Narcissus" is available on October 20, 2022 as a paperback (196 p.; 978-1-956692-36-5), e-book, and audiobook. Retailers and libraries can order copies through Ingram.
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