itpdx, August 2, 2010 (view all comments by itpdx)
A wonderful read. The story of one enigmatic man, Johnny Lim, told from three viewpoints-his son, his wife's journal and the reminiscences of a friend in old age. The main part of the story is set on the Malay peninsula just before the Japanese invasion in WWII. We never know Johnny but we learn much about his family and friend.
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Shoshana, December 5, 2008 (view all comments by Shoshana)
Aw's first novel is an extended study of one man, Johnny Lim. Stories about Johnny are told by three narrators in three sections. Each has a complex emotional relationship with Johnny. His disaffected son, eager to expose his father's crimes; his wife Snow, whose diary reveals a more tentative and vulnerable man; and Peter, a British friend who has fled to Malaysia but finds he cannot escape himself. Aw does a good job of differentiating each narrator's voice and preoccupations. There isn't a lot of action here, or even resolution. Rather, the pleasure of the story is in the reader's accretion of knowledge about Johnny, and the somewhat voyeuristic satisfaction of seeing more perspectives than each narrator.
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Sublime literary work. Marvelous characters reveal their inner depth. Faultless and flawless writing entices you.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by 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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day"
"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
by San Francisco Chronicle,
by The London Times,
"A beguiling narrative mosaic...bewitchingly written...mercilessly gripping."
by Guardian Unlimited (UK),
"[Aw] writes with what seems like effortless fluidity...dazzling."
by Library Journal,
"[C]risp and flowing prose....[B]rings the depths of the Malaysian jungles to the reader."
by San Jose Mercury News,
"[W]ith The Harmony Silk Factory, Tash Aw has put Malaysia on the English literary map."
by San Diego Union-Tribune,
"Aw, himself a Malaysian, presents a novel that is mature, culturally accurate and totally engrossing."
by Denver Post,
"...Aw ultimately fails to connect because textile magnate Johnny Lim, his central character, is less enigmatic than vague."
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.
Conrad, Maugham, and 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 his examination of a mysterious and larger than life character-hero or traitor?-Tash Aw gives us an exquisitely written look into another culture at a moment of crisis.
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