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 pasttheir 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 himand who is Dutch but long ago turned his back on the country of his ancestorshas 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.
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 ...
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).
Full Review (469 words).
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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