BookBrowse Reviews Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Map of the Invisible World

A Novel

by Tash Aw

Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw X
Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2010, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2010, 336 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Beverly Melven

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


A novel set during a time of political turmoil in post-colonial Indonesia

The topic of cultures clashing has always been fascinating to me, and Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw is a great example of how fiction can illuminate a complex history. By examining the lives of a few individuals during the struggle for independence in Indonesia, we see the pain, confusion and damage done to an entire country.

The story centers on the life of orphaned Adam, which serves as an effective metaphor for the struggle of a young nation trying to find maturity and security. No one in the book - whether indigenous or implanted - seems to have a home, or even know where home is or what it should look like. The story of a country with no past is really just millions of stories of people whose personal stories have disconnected from their own history. Even knowing your parents isn't the same as knowing your past.

The story is at once familiar and one-of-a-kind. I've read dozens of stories of displaced people in post-colonial nations, but I never felt like I had read this story before. Aw demonstrates that while the circumstances are sadly far from unique, the ways in which each individual is effected are specific and agonizing to those who must experience them.

People learn who they truly are when forced to examine themselves through someone else's cultural lens. Each main character has a tiny incident in their childhood that has haunted them with a glimpse of a hidden truth. Maybe it's true, or maybe it's merely an imagined truth that they prefer to their particular reality. But each of them tries to confront the future according to what they believe, regardless of the chaos and pain around them. None of them seems to succeed, but it appears to be the attempt that is important, not the accomplishment.

As a reader, I found myself pulled along with whatever emotion Adam or Margaret or Johan was feeling. When they were frantic, I was frantic for them. When they were hopeless, I was sure that nothing good could possibly happen. The writing is deceptively simple. It seems to be the straight-forward prose of a mystery or a whodunit, but it quickly insinuates itself into your emotional core so that you cannot stop until you know whether these poor people are going to be okay. The pain is powerfully rendered, but somehow a thing of beauty. Anyone familiar with post-colonial literature will be unsurprised by the lack of a clear hero or villain, and the fragmented narrative style is well-suited to the story of a nation trying to keep from pulling itself apart. This is a magnificently emotional story that still manages to surprise you in the end, not because the story itself is unusual, but because the path the book takes you on is one-of-a-kind.

A Note on the Sidebar
The Dutch, as English speakers refer to them, are citizens of The Netherlands, also known as Holland. Although the terms Holland and The Netherlands are effectively interchangeable, Holland originally referred to just one small area of the country (North and South Holland); while Netherlands (meaning Low Country) historically referred to the area that is now split between Holland and Flemish speaking Belgium.

Reviewed by Beverly Melven

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

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: I Found My Tribe
    I Found My Tribe
    by Ruth Fitzmaurice
    Ruth O'Neill was only 28 when she married film director Simon Fitzmaurice in 2004. Changing her...
  • Book Jacket: The Art of the Wasted Day
    The Art of the Wasted Day
    by Patricia Hampl
    Patricia Hampl wants you to know that daydreaming is not a waste of a day. Nor is spending time ...
  • Book Jacket: Circe
    Circe
    by Madeline Miller
    Towards the end of Madeline Miller's novel Circe, the titular nymph is questioned by her son ...
  • Book Jacket: All the Names They Used for God
    All the Names They Used for God
    by Anjali Sachdeva
    Pre-publication press has already compared Anjali Sachdeva to Kelly Link and other genre-blending ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner

A love story for things lost and restored, a lyrical hymn to the power of forgiveness.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Other People's Houses
    by Abbi Waxman

    A hilarious and poignant novel about four families and the affair that changes everything.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Leavers

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

One of the most anticipated books of 2017--now in paperback!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T E H N Clothes

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.