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The Harmony Silk Factory
2005 Whitbread Award, Best First Novel
Sublime literary work. Marvelous characters reveal their inner depth. Faultless and flawless writing entices you.
"Strangely enough, it is the third part of The Harmony Silk Factory — narrated by an Englishman — that feels the most atmospheric, and the most alive. Peter's narrative makes the other two, occasionally plodding, sections work, and they make a collective statement about the inherent flaws of history and memory." Anna Godbersen, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review
Synopses & Reviews
Tash Aw's highly original first novel juxtaposes three accounts of the life of an enigmatic man at a pivotal and haunting moment in Malaysian history.
The Harmony Silk Factory is the textiles store run by Johnny Lim, a Chinese peasant living in rural Malay in the first half of the twentieth century. It is the most impressive and truly amazing structure in the region, and to the inhabitants of the Kinta Valley Johnny Lim 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. Centering on Johnny from three perspectives — those of his grown son; his wife, Snow, the most beautiful woman in the Kinta Valley (through her diary entries); and his best and only friend, an Englishman adrift named Peter Wormwood — the novel reveals the difficulty of knowing another human being, and how our assumptions about others also determine who we are.
Joseph Conrad, W. Somerset Maugham, and Anthony Burgess have shaped our perceptions of Malaysia. Now, with The Harmony Silk Factory, we have an authentic Malaysian voice that remaps this literary landscape. Through this examination of a compelling, mysterious, and larger-than-life character, Tash Aw gives us an exquisitely written look into another culture at a moment of crisis.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Mesmerizing." San Francisco Chronicle
"A beguiling narrative mosaic...bewitchingly written...mercilessly gripping." The London Times
"[Aw] writes with what seems like effortless fluidity...dazzling." Guardian Unlimited (UK)
"[C]risp and flowing prose....[B]rings the depths of the Malaysian jungles to the reader." Library Journal
"[W]ith The Harmony Silk Factory, Tash Aw has put Malaysia on the English literary map." San Jose Mercury News
"Aw, himself a Malaysian, presents a novel that is mature, culturally accurate and totally engrossing." San Diego Union-Tribune
"...Aw ultimately fails to connect because textile magnate Johnny Lim, his central character, is less enigmatic than vague." Denver Post
Aw's highly original first novel juxtaposes three accounts of the life of an enigmatic man at a pivotal and haunting moment in Malaysian history.
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.
About the Author
Tash Aw was born in Taipei and brought up in Malaysia. He moved to England in his teens. This is his first novel.
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