Map of the Invisible World

Map of the Invisible World

by Tash Aw

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Overview

From the author of the internationally acclaimed The Harmony Silk Factory comes an enthralling novel that evokes an exotic yet turbulent place and time—1960s Indonesia during President Sukarno’s drive to purge the country of its colonial past. A page-turning story, Map of the Invisible World follows the journeys of two brothers and an American woman who are indelibly marked by the past—and swept up in the tides of history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385527972
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/28/2010
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 6.94(w) x 11.34(h) x 0.69(d)

About the Author

Tash Aw's debut novel, The Harmony Silk Factory, was the winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Novel and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Malaysian by birth, he now lives in London.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



When it finally happened, there was no violence, hardly any drama. It was over very quickly, and then Adam found himself alone once more. Hiding in the deep shade of the bushes, this is what he saw.

The soldiers jumped from the truck onto the sandy soil. They dusted themselves off, straightening their hitched-up trouser legs and tucking their shirts into their waistbands. Their long sleeves were rolled up thickly above their elbows and made their arms look skinny and frail, and the belts they wore were so wide they seemed to stretch their waists to their chests. They laughed and joked and aimed pretend-kicks at one another. Their boots were too big and when they ran they looked like clowns. They were just kids, Adam thought, just like me, only with guns.

They hesitated as they approached the steps going up to the veranda, talking among themselves. They were too far away; he couldn't hear what they were saying. Then two of them went up to the house and when they emerged they had Karl with them. He was not handcuffed; he followed them slowly, walking to the truck with his uneven gait before climbing up and disappearing under the tarpaulin canopy. From a distance he looked small, just like them, just like a child too, only with fair hair and pink skin.

Stop. Adam wanted to call out, to scream for Karl to come back. Don't leave, he wanted to shout. But he remained silent and unmoving, shrouded by the dense, thorny foliage. He could do this now: He held his breath and counted slowly from one to ten. A long time ago, he had learned this way of controlling his fear.

The truck reversed and then drew away sharply, kicking up a cloud of sand and dust; on its side there was a crude chalk drawing of a penis next to the words your mother ——. Overhead the skies were rich and low and black, pregnant with moisture. It had been like this for some days; it had not rained in a long time, but now there was a storm coming. Everyone wanted rain.

In truth it did not surprise Adam that the soldiers had come. All month there had been signs hinting at some impending disaster, but only he seemed to see them. For weeks beforehand the seas had been rough, the ground trembling with just the slightest suggestion of an earthquake. One night Adam was awakened from his sleep by such a tremor, and when he went to the door and looked outside the coconut trees were swaying sinuously even though there was no wind; the ground felt uncertain beneath his feet and for a while he could not be sure that it wasn't he who was swaying rather than the trees. The ginger and white cat that spent its days bounding across the grass roof in search of mice and lizards began to creep slowly along, as if suddenly it had become old and unsteady, until one morning Adam found it dead on the sand, its neck twisted awkwardly at an angle, its face looking up toward the sky.

Then there was the incident in town. An old man had cycled from his village in the hills, looking to buy some rice from the Chinese merchant. He'd just come back from the Hajj, he said; the pilgrimage is an honor but it isn't cheap. The crops had not been good all year; the dry season had been too long, and now there was no food left. He asked for credit, but the merchant refused point-blank. Last year there was a plague of rats, he said; this year there is a drought. Next year there will be an earthquake and the year after there will be floods. There is always something on this shit hole of an island. No one has any money, everyone in town will tell you the same thing. Prices are high, but it's no one's fault: If you don't have cash, there's nothing anyone can do for you. So the old man went to the pawnshop with his wife's ring, a small gemstone that might have been amber, set in a thin band of silver. The Chinese pawnbroker peered at it through an eyeglass for a few seconds before handing it back. A fake, he said, shrugging, a cheap fake. An argument ensued, a scuffle; insults of a personal, and no doubt racial, nature were exchanged. Later that evening, when the hot heavy night had descended, someone—it is not clear who—splashed kerosene on the doors of the pawnshop and took a match to it. The traditional wooden houses of this island (of which not many survive) burn easily, and within half an hour it was engulfed in flames. There were no survivors. The Chinese shops stayed closed for three days; no one could buy anything. Suddenly there were fistfights all over town. Communists were arriving from the mainland to capitalize on the unrest, everyone said. Gangs of youths roamed the streets armed with machetes and daubing graffiti on houses. Commies DIE. Foreigners Chinese go to hel.

It was like an article from the newspapers played out for real, the static images rising from the newsprint and coming to life before Adam's very eyes. The charred timber remains of burned-out buildings, the bloodred paint on walls. The empty streets. Adam knew that there were troubles elsewhere in Indonesia. He had heard there was a revolution of some sort—not like the ones in France or Russia or China, which he had read about, but something fuzzier and more indistinct, where no one was quite sure what needed to be overthrown, or what to be kept. But those were problems that belonged to Java and Sumatra—at the other end of this country of islands strung out across the sea like seaweed on the shore. That was what everyone thought. Only Adam knew that they were not safe.

Karl had refused to do anything. He did not once consider leaving.

"But . . ." Adam tried to protest. He read the newspapers and listened to the radio, and he knew that things were happening all across the archipelago.

"Why should we?"

"Because of your . . . because we are, I mean, you are different." Even as he spoke he knew what the response would be.

"I am as Indonesian as anyone else on this island. My passport says so. Skin color has nothing to do with it, I've always told you that. And if the police come for me, I'll tell them the same thing. I have committed no crime; I'm just like everyone else."

And so they had stayed. They had stayed, and the soldiers had come. Adam had been right all along; he knew the soldiers would come for them. He had imagined himself being in jail with Karl in Surabaya or somewhere else on the mainland, maybe even Jakarta, but now he was alone. It was the first time in his life he had been alone—the first time in this life at least.

He waited in the bushes long after the truck had gone. He didn't know what he was waiting for but he waited anyway, squatting with his backside nearly touching the ground, his knees pulled up to his chin. When it was nearly dark and the sea breeze started up again he walked back to the house and sat on the veranda. He sat and he waited until it was properly night, until he could see nothing but the silhouettes of the trees against the deep blankness of the sea beyond, and he felt calmer.

Night falls quickly in these islands, and once it arrives you can see nothing. If you light a lamp it will illuminate a small space around you quite perfectly, but beyond this pool of watery brilliance there is nothing. The hills, the scrubby forests, rocky shoreline, the beaches of black sand—they become indistinguishable, they cease to exist as independent forms. And so, sitting motionless in the dark, only his shallow breaths reveal that Adam is still there, still waiting.

Reading Group Guide

1. Map of the Invisible World is a story told, for the most part, in three voices: Adam’s, Johan’s, and Margaret’s. Johan’s passages are stylistically different from the other two: why do think the author chose to set them off like this?

2. Map of the Invisible World is set in Indonesia and Malaysia in the 1960s, with flashbacks to the preceding decades. Did you know much about this time and place before reading the novel? Did the novel change your perspective on the history of this region? Do you think that the varying points of view in the novel give a well-rounded representation of the era and its events?

3. To what does the title of the novel refer?

4. Discuss the relationship of each of the three epigraphs — one a quote from the French poet Rimbaud, one from the Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer, and one from the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges — to the novel itself.

5. As the novel begins, we see Adam being left alone for the third time in his young life: discuss the theme of loss in the novel.

6. Is Map of the Invisible World a political novel? Why or why not?

7. Discuss the various fathers in the novel, and the theme of fatherhood (including the idea of Sukarno as the father of his nation).

8. Din is perhaps the most complex character in the novel: how did you feel about him in the end? Were his actions justified? Understandable?

9. Do you think that Karl made the right choice in returning to Indonesia after World War II ended? Why or why not?

10. Discuss how the ideas of family and belonging play out in the novel.

11. If you have read Tash Aw’s debut novel, The Harmony Silk Factory, can you see threads that connect Map of the Invisible World with it? How are the two novels different?

12. The sea plays an important role in the imaginations of both Adam and Johan: do you think it means the same thing to both boys? Does the sea play a role in the larger themes of the novel (historical, political)?

13. At the end of chapter 11, Margaret asks herself: “had she loved and been loved in return?” Do you think she has an answer to that question by the end of the novel?

14. The final scene of the novel describes Johan driving through the dark city, just as he is doing when we first encounter him: what do you think the author intends with this echoing?

15. The author describes a number of neighbourhoods and buildings in Jakarta: did the city come alive for you? Is it a place you would like to visit? How about the smaller, more remote islands of Indonesia, such as the one Adam and Karl live on?

Foreword

1. Map of the Invisible World is a story told, for the most part, in three voices: Adam’s, Johan’s, and Margaret’s. Johan’s passages are stylistically different from the other two: why do think the author chose to set them off like this?

2. Map of the Invisible World is set in Indonesia and Malaysia in the 1960s, with flashbacks to the preceding decades. Did you know much about this time and place before reading the novel? Did the novel change your perspective on the history of this region? Do you think that the varying points of view in the novel give a well-rounded representation of the era and its events?

3. To what does the title of the novel refer?

4. Discuss the relationship of each of the three epigraphs — one a quote from the French poet Rimbaud, one from the Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer, and one from the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges — to the novel itself.

5. As the novel begins, we see Adam being left alone for the third time in his young life: discuss the theme of loss in the novel.

6. Is Map of the Invisible World a political novel? Why or why not?

7. Discuss the various fathers in the novel, and the theme of fatherhood (including the idea of Sukarno as the father of his nation).

8. Din is perhaps the most complex character in the novel: how did you feel about him in the end? Were his actions justified? Understandable?

9. Do you think that Karl made the right choice in returning to Indonesia after World War II ended? Why or why not?

10. Discuss how the ideas of family and belonging play out in the novel.

11. If you haveread Tash Aw’s debut novel, The Harmony Silk Factory, can you see threads that connect Map of the Invisible World with it? How are the two novels different?

12. The sea plays an important role in the imaginations of both Adam and Johan: do you think it means the same thing to both boys? Does the sea play a role in the larger themes of the novel (historical, political)?

13. At the end of chapter 11, Margaret asks herself: “had she loved and been loved in return?” Do you think she has an answer to that question by the end of the novel?

14. The final scene of the novel describes Johan driving through the dark city, just as he is doing when we first encounter him: what do you think the author intends with this echoing?

15. The author describes a number of neighbourhoods and buildings in Jakarta: did the city come alive for you? Is it a place you would like to visit? How about the smaller, more remote islands of Indonesia, such as the one Adam and Karl live on?

Customer Reviews

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Map of the Invisible World 2.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Tinwara on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Adam and Johan are two Indonesian orphaned brothers, who have become separated as children. Johan grows up in a well to do family in Kuala Lumpur, Adam is raised by a Dutchman who has remained in Indonesia after the independence. The story focusses mainly on Johan and his quest to find his foster father who has been taken away from home by the military. His quest leads him to Margaret, an American professor at the University of Jakarta and old friend of Johan's foster father. And to the turmoil of Jakarta in the 1960's.I was looking forward to reading this book as I was travelling in Indonesia and Malaysia and was really interested in local literature. However, I didn't really like this novel. Some of the characters were just a little too hysterical (Johan, Margaret, Din) whereas others were completely naive (Adam, Zubaidah). They seemed unreal to me, and so did the plot, that happens to contain too many happy coincidences. So. Very unlike me, I left this novel behind in a hostel. Hope that someone else enjoys it more than me!
Chatterbox on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Most of the characters in Tash Aw's remarkable, if not flawless, second novel are in search of some kind of truth about the past in order to make sense of their present and future. At its heard is the quest of young Adam de Willeg, the adopted Indonesian son of Karl, born Dutch but who has adopted Indonesian nationality in the wake of the country's independence, to find the older brother he can scarcely remember -- Johan was adopted and taken out of the country, leaving Adam behind in an orphanage -- and his desperate effort to locate Karl, who has been frogmarched out of the home they share on a remote island in the Indonesian archipelago by soldiers. Aw sets his tale in what President Sukarno declares to be "the year of living dangerously", a year in which Sukarno breaks with the West definitively and in which the country trembles on the edge of civil war. And 16-year-old Adam is, indeed, living dangerously as he travels to turbulent Jakarta, the country's capital,n search of a woman he has never met but who seems to mean a lot to Karl, his father: American anthropologist Margaret Bates, who now works at the university. Margaret has her own past history, both with Indonesia -- the country of her birth, if not her citizenship or origins -- and with Karl, and Adam's arrival literally on her doorstep forces her to come to grips with that. Trained as an anthropologist and raised to be emotionally self-contained, Margaret now finds that the skill she most prizes -- her ability to read people and their unspoken thoughts and emotions -- seems to desert her amidst the chaos. Meanwhile, Adam's encounter with Din, Margaret's enigmatic research assistant, may drive him toward another kind of encounter with history. The narrative bounces between characters: Adam's quest for identity and his family (both birth and adoptive); his brother Johan's quest for some kind of meaning and purpose within the wealthy family who adopted him but left Adam behind; Margaret's struggle with her unexpected instinct to protect young Adam and the realization that what she felt for Karl as a 17-year-old in Bali has never left her. It's a story about quests: for identity, for meaning, for purpose, for family and for connection; there are themes that range from the complexity of parent-child relationships to violence and injustice. But at its heart, the conundrum at the heart of Aw's novel is a venerable one: in times of chaos and "living dangerously", is there still a place for personal ties and relationships? Or do abstractions -- nationality, politics -- take priority? President Sukarno makes clear to Margaret his own views on the matter: "the time for gifts has passed". He is referring to formal gifts between nations and seems unable to envisage something more personal and individual, any more than Din, an embryonic revolutionary, can do. On the other hand, the novel's main characters strive in their different ways to push beyond this utilitarian definition of relationships. All this makes for a complex and crowded novel, jammed with ideas. But the writing and the characters triumph, transforming what in the hands of a lesser novelist would be a rambling and perhaps even incoherent story not only accessible but fascinating. Aw, Malaysian by birth, has captured the feel of Southeast Asia -- the scents, the sounds, the quality of the light, even the texture of the air -- in a way that few other authors I've read have managed to accomplish, as well as an incredible sense of the time and era in which the book is set: the chaos of the twilight of Sukarno's rule. Highly recommended.
BookWallah on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rambling tale of two Indonesian brothers separated as orphans, now searching for meaning as teens. Expatriate Dutch and American lovers from long ago seek each other. Revolution, unrest and anti-American sentiments. Found these multiple narrative threads a tad choppy when cobbled together. Of interest only to those wanting some insight into living through the 1960s Sukarno period in Indonesia.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wish the e-book pricing wouldn't have increased on this one.