Publisher: Ingram Spark
Publication date: December 10, 2019
Genre: Coming of Age
Why does Ace fritter his life away drinking heavily and backpacking across Southeast Asia?
Why did he ditch his Parisian girlfriend?
Why does he take a shine to Charlie with whom he has nothing in common?
Why is he playing with Maggie, with Mia, with scores of other unnamed women?
Eng answers all these questions bit by bit, although it was easy to guess what had happened in the end. Nevertheless, the denouement is no less heartbreaking. Ace isn’t a perfect person, although though he can charm both men and women with his backpacking stories. His relationship with Caroline is a beautiful, tender, and realistic story of the ups and downs of living together.
Photography and backpacking are the common themes that unite the important characters in the book. The narrative alternates between Ace’s past and present, and I found myself impatient to get to the bottom of Ace’s mysterious background. I could also relate to Ace’s disdain of Instagram and the hypocrisy surrounding the medium.
The descriptions of cities in Vietnam and Thailand, of food stalls and the people working in them, and of the chaos in the lives and minds of people are so real that they transport you right into the thick of things.
You can taste the steaming bowl of pho, feel the warmth of the Parisian sun, the bone-chilling cold of the rain at Chiang Mai, and the smell of the books at Mhi’s hole-in-the-wall bookstore. With good reason, Ace repeatedly bemoans his favorite places becoming “touristy,” and losing their charm.
“Where does Pai fit in all of this?”, you may ask. Pai is where Ace and Charlie take important decisions. Ace warns his friends to “never go full Pai,” but what happens is nothing short of amazing.
I could not turn the pages fast enough in this eloquently written book about travel, companionship, and love. Eng’s debut novel is smooth and well-paced, the characters are adequately fleshed out, and he keeps the mystery alive till the end.
(I received an Advanced Review Copy of the book from Reedsy Discovery. This review was first published here.)