A Thai coming-of-age tale mildly spiced with magic realism. Formidable forces converge on 12-year-old Justin's awakening to adolescence. It is 1963, and Justin's best friend Virgil, a black boy from Georgia, introduces him to the richness of black American culture and the prejudice that dogs his family even in Asia. Justin's parents, nearly mythic for their long-term absence, perform top-secret work for the US government as it grows increasingly entangled in Vietnam. A trio of maiden aunts, ``the Three Fates,'' raise Justin on a family estate just outside of Bangkok loaded with intrigue: Two are involved in a fling with a priapic English doctor, and none of the relatives can wait to get their paws on the will of the clan's matriarch, who vows to dance the limbo rock, a reference to an American pop song of the time, before she'll give up the ghost. Somtow (The Wizard's Apprentice, 1993, etc.) creates a convincing voice for Justin to tell of his emergence among so many peculiar factors; and the novel's disparate elements--pathos and humor, reality and fantasy, the traditional Thai household and encroaching American culture--often coalesce to form a seamless whole. The novel climaxes in the staging of a play Justin writes, in which he fuses Greek and African myth and the American Civil War into a drama that serves as a strangely fitting emblem for the young man he is about to become. But some of the oddly shaped building blocks of Somtow's style don't fit together. Virgil speaks in an awkward dialect that doesn't sound much like African-American English, and some lines--``My parents are into cultural diversity or something''--are simply too anachronistic to be believable. Still, the novel succeeds as a poignant, piquant portrait of a boy and his world on the threshold of transformation.