Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Map of the Invisible World

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Map of the Invisible World

A Novel

by Tash Aw

Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2010, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2010, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Beverly Melven

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Indonesia
Map of the Invisible World takes place during a tumultuous time in recent Indonesian history - the post-colonial turmoil that is common when empires finally relinquish territories they've been occupying for centuries. Like many areas of the world, Indonesia has been influenced and sometimes occupied by successive waves of immigration and religion:

The islands of Indonesian have been inhabited for a very long time - in fact, one of the first fossil remains of Homo erectus, known as "Java man" was discovered in this island archipelago. The descendants of the majority ethnic group in Indonesia today are believed to have arrived from Taiwan around 4000 years ago. By the 7th century CE, powerful Hindu and Buddhist influences arrived from India and other locations on the nearby Asian continent. They brought both religion and governmental processes to the people, which flourished until the 13th century, when Islam became a new and powerful religion in the area. By the 16th century, when Europeans first arrived, Islam was the dominant religion, though it was mixed with the already-present Hindu and Buddhist culture.

In 1602 The Dutch East India Company was granted a 21-year monopoly by the Dutch government to carry out colonial activities in Asia. The company quickly came to dominate the lucrative spice trade of the area, which would stay under Dutch control, and eventually became known as the Dutch East Indies, for over 400 years.

During WWII, the Japanese occupied Indonesia and ended Dutch rule. Emboldened by the surrender of Japan in 1945, Indonesian independence was declared by the nationalist leader Sukarno. The Dutch tried and failed to reestablish control, formally relinquishing their claim in 1949. Sukarno became president of the new nation and rejected any influence by Western nations.

A coup was attempted in 1965, thwarted by Major General Suharto, who later ousted Sukarno. Anti-communist violence erupted, resulting in the deaths of half a million people. Suharto became president in 1968 and his government welcomed Western investment in their economic growth. The characters in Map of the Invisible World are caught up in the violence and anti-communist backlash of the late 60s. In the late 1990s, Indonesia was one of the countries hardest hit by the East Asian Financial Crisis, which led to Suharto's resignation in 1998. The first direct presidential election was held in 2004.

Article by Beverly Melven

This article was originally published in January 2010, and has been updated for the December 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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