Summary and book reviews of Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw

Map of the Invisible World

A Novel

by Tash Aw

Map of the Invisible World
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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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About this Book

Book Summary

From the author of the internationally acclaimed, award-winning The Harmony Silk Factory comes an enthralling new novel that evokes an exotic yet turbulent and often frightening time and place. Map of the Invisible World is the masterly, psychologically rich tale of three lives indelibly marked by the past—their own and Indonesia's.

Sixteen-year-old Adam is an orphan three times over. He and his brother, Johan, were abandoned by their mother as children; then Adam watched as Johan was adopted and taken away by a wealthy couple; and now Adam is hiding because Karl, the man who raised him—and who is Dutch but long ago turned his back on the country of his ancestors—has been arrested by soldiers during Sukarno's drive to purge 1960s Indonesia of its colonial past.

All Adam has to guide him in his quest to find Karl are some old photos and letters, which send him to the colorful, dangerous capital, Jakarta, and to Margaret, an American whose own past is bound up with Karl's. Soon both have embarked on journeys of discovery that seem destined to turn tragic.

Woven hauntingly into this page-turning story is the voice of Johan, who is living a seemingly carefree, privileged life in Malaysia, but one that is careening out of control as he struggles to forget his long-ago betrayal of his helpless, trusting brother.

Map of the Invisible World confirms Tash Aw as one of the most exciting young voices on the international literary scene.

Chapter One

When it finally happened, there was no violence, hardly any drama. It was over very quickly, and then Adam found himself alone once more. Hiding in the deep shade of the bushes, this is what he saw.

The soldiers jumped from the truck onto the sandy soil. They dusted themselves off, straightening their hitched-up trouser legs and tucking their shirts into their waistbands. Their long sleeves were rolled up thickly above their elbows and made their arms look skinny and frail, and the belts they wore were so wide they seemed to stretch their waists to their chests. They laughed and joked and aimed pretend-kicks at one another. Their boots were too big and when they ran they looked like clowns. They were just kids, Adam thought, just like me, only with guns.

They hesitated as they approached the steps going up to the veranda, talking among themselves. They were too far away; he couldn't hear what they were saying. Then two of them went up to the house and when they emerged ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The topic of cultures clashing has always been fascinating to me, and Map of the Invisible World 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... 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.   (Reviewed by Beverly Melven).

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Media Reviews

Los Angeles Times

In the end, Aw fails to build on what he did so well in his debut novel, "The Harmony Silk Factory." His willingness to leave certain questions unresolved reflected an authorial confidence not found in this new book, which, despite a widely ambulating narrative, wraps up too neatly.

Time

A book full of immense intelligence and empathy ... a complex drama of private relationships ... While Aw's prose remains as luminous as in his debut novel ... there is greater emotional heft in his new work .... reaching an unbearably moving climax.

Library Journal

An intricate and emotional work, this book may be a little too subtle to attract a wide audience. Recommended for literary readers.

The Independent, UK

A worthy successor to The Harmony Silk Factory .... Aw handles both political upheaval and the personal trauma it generates with considerable skill and verve.... His prose is vividly lyrical. ... Clearly, Aw has bags of talent.

The Scotsman

Buoyant, limber, confidently told ... Long before its cliffhanger ending, what is revealed is a book embodying huge ambition, jostling with love, betrayal and guilt, all set poignantly and subtly against the politics of turmoil in post-colonial Indonesia circa 1964.

Toronto Star

Breathtaking ... Map of the Invisible World drops you on the streets of Jakarta and floods your senses with impending doom.

Reader Reviews

A.J.

Map of the Invisable World
I am not a fan of chapters that skip from one character to another and Tash Aw does this in a very disjointed way that disrupts the flow of the narrative making it feel like you are being taken on a very erratic and bumpy ride. Even so I enjoyed his ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

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 ...

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