Innovative Fiction
Keki N. Daruwalla
MAP OF THE INVISIBLE WORLD by Tash Aw Harper Collins, 2009, 343 pp., 450
August 2009, volume 33, No 8/9

Tash Aw, the Malaysian novelist living in England has been making waves. His The Harmony Silk Factory won the Whitbread Award for a first novel, and also the Costa Award. Incidentally he was reported to have been paid an advance of 500,000 Sterling for that one, though he has denied it. Born as Aw Ta-Shi in 1971 in Taipei to Malaysian parents, Tash Aw, to give him his pen name, studied in Malaysia and moved to Cambridge and later to the Warwick University to study law. He has also written short stories. Plotted carefully, with a small cluster of credible characters, authentic in detail and landscape, Map of the Invisible World is a treat. Tash Aw handles the English language almost like Ondantje.

The protagonist, Adam and his brother Johan, were both left at the orphanage by their mother. The two get separated after some years—the elder and the tougher brother, Johan is adopted by rich Malaysian parents, while later Adam goes to Karl de Willligen, formerly Dutch, but who has since turned Indonesian and renounced his original citizenship. No Dutch is spoken in the house. Karl believes that Adam should not grow up absorbing the culture of the country that colonized his own.

The tearing apart of the brothers is a trauma for both of them and the agony of it haunts the pair through the book.

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