The Harmony Silk Factory

The Harmony Silk Factory

4.5 2
by Tash Aw
     
 

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Joseph Conrad, W. Somerset Maugham, and Anthony Burgess have shaped our perceptions of Malaysia. In Tash Aw, we now have an authentic Malaysian voice that remaps this literary landscape.

The Harmony Silk Factory traces the story of textile merchant Johnny Lim, a Chinese peasant living in British Malaya in the first half of the

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Overview

Joseph Conrad, W. Somerset Maugham, and Anthony Burgess have shaped our perceptions of Malaysia. In Tash Aw, we now have an authentic Malaysian voice that remaps this literary landscape.

The Harmony Silk Factory traces the story of textile merchant Johnny Lim, a Chinese peasant living in British Malaya in the first half of the twentieth century. Johnny's factory is the most impressive structure in the region, and to the inhabitants of the Kinta Valley Johnny is a hero—a Communist who fought the Japanese when they invaded, ready to sacrifice his life for the welfare of his people. But to his son, Jasper, Johnny is a crook and a collaborator who betrayed the very people he pretended to serve, and the Harmony Silk Factory is merely a front for his father's illegal businesses. This debut novel from Tash Aw gives us an exquisitely written look into another culture at a moment of crisis.

The Harmony Silk Factory won the 2005 Whitbread First Novel Award and also made it to the 2005 Man Booker longlist.

 

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Unputdownable."—Doris Lessing

"A beguiling narrative mosaic...bewitchingly written...mercilessly gripping."—The Times (London)

"First reaction: WOW! Second reaction: Read it."—Asian Week

"A beautifully composed and memorable story...A first book anyone who travels by fiction will want to read."—San Francisco Chronicle

Publishers Weekly
Aw slices his first novel into three segments, wherein three characters dissect the nature of Johnny Lim, a controversial figure in 1940s Malaysia. Depending on the teller, Johnny was a Communist leader, an informer for the Japanese, a dangerous black-market trader, a working-class Chinese man too in awe of his aristocratic wife to have sex with her, or a loyal friend. Long after Johnny's death, we hear these conflicting accounts from his grown son, Jasper; his wife, Snow (through the lens of her 1941 diary); and his English expatriate friend, Peter Wormwood. The chief benefit of this structural trick is to make palpable the limitations of each character's perspective, and that's no mean feat. But Aw's prose, though often witty and taut, is not equally convincing in all its guises. Jasper is the typical alienated son who burns to discover all the crimes his father committed; this also makes him the typical unreliable narrator (when his father kills a mosquito that had bitten him, Jasper cites this as proof of an innate "streak of malice"). When Snow takes over, Johnny suddenly resembles a more ordinary man, while she-adored by her son, whose birth caused her death-reveals herself to be a fallible character and an unfaithful wife. The most boisterous and enjoyable thread of this story belongs to Peter, with whose chipper English patter Aw, oddly enough, seems most at home. Agent, David Godwin. Foreign rights sold in 10 countries. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sultry first novel of betrayal, with an exotic setting (Malaya) and a WWII link. Could it be another English Patient? As a literary creation, no way; as raw material for a movie, maybe. Who is Johnny Lim? Aw gives us three versions of the Chinese businessman, from three different narrators. To his son Jasper, he's a monster, and not just because he's a drug kingpin, the richest man in Malaya's Kinta Valley. Item: Johnny murdered his first patron, Tiger Tan, to get his textile business. Item: Johnny replaced his father-in-law as the valley's chief power-broker by injuring him in a fire he set himself. Item: In 1942, Johnny, a secret Communist commander, betrayed his fellow commanders, who were then massacred by the occupying Japanese. Curiously, we learn little about Johnny's competence as a father, but we do know that Jasper's mother, Snow, died giving birth to him. This young woman, a great beauty, is the second narrator. In 1941, she's steeling herself to leave Johnny after only a year's marriage; she finds him alien and unknowable, the qualities that originally attracted her. But Snow's Johnny is no monster. The child of laborers, he's in awe of the highborn Snow and barely touches her. The heart of her story is an ill-fated expedition the two make to the mysterious islands Seven Maidens. They're accompanied by two Englishmen (one is Peter, an epicene aesthete and Johnny's only friend) and a Japanese man, Mamoru, who will achieve his own notoriety as the Valley's eventual administrator. Snow's account is as evasive as Jasper's was explicit. The third narrator is Peter. For him, Johnny is an innocent child, worried that he'll lose Snow to Peter's superior charms. Peter himself is farfrom innocent, a bitter, poisonous man who will indeed betray Johnny, though the friendship has been implausible from the get-go. Atmospherics substitute for credible characterization in this Malaysian writer's sluggish, awkward account of a man's many selves.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781594481741
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/07/2006
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
416
Product dimensions:
5.23(w) x 8.03(h) x 0.92(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Unputdownable."—Doris Lessing

"A beguiling narrative mosaic...bewitchingly written...mercilessly gripping."—The Times (London)

"First reaction: WOW! Second reaction: Read it."—Asian Week

"A beautifully composed and memorable story...A first book anyone who travels by fiction will want to read."—San Francisco Chronicle

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