Summary and book reviews of We, the Survivors by Tash Aw

We, the Survivors

by Tash Aw

We, the Survivors by Tash Aw X
We, the Survivors by Tash Aw
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2019, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2020, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
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About this Book

Book Summary

From the author of The Harmony Silk Factory and Five Star Billionaire, a compelling depiction of a man's act of violence, set against the backdrop of Asia in flux.

Ah Hock is an ordinary man of simple means. Born and raised in a Malaysian fishing village, he favors stability above all, a preference at odds with his rapidly modernizing surroundings. So what brings him to kill a man?

This question leads a young, privileged journalist to Ah Hock's door. While the victim has been mourned and the killer has served time for the crime, Ah Hock's motive remains unclear, even to himself. His vivid confession unfurls over extensive interviews with the journalist, herself a local whose life has taken a very different course. The process forces both the speaker and his listener to reckon with systems of power, race, and class in a place where success is promised to all yet delivered only to its lucky heirs.

An uncompromising portrait of an outsider navigating a society in transition, Tash Aw's anti-nostalgic tale, We, the Survivors, holds its tension to the very end. In the wake of loss and destruction, hope is among the survivors.

I
OCTOBER

October 2nd

You want me to talk about life, but all I've talked about is failure, as if they're the same thing, or at least so closely entwined that I can't separate the two – like the trees you see growing in the half-ruined buildings in the Old Town. Roots clinging to the outside of the walls, holding the bricks and stone and whatever remains of the paint together, branches pushing through holes in the roof. Sometimes there's almost nothing left of the roof, if you can even call it that – just fragments of clay tiles or rusty tin propped up by the canopy of leaves. A few miles out of town, on the other side of Kapar headed towards the coast, you'll find a shophouse with the roots of a jungle fig creeping down the front pillars of the building, the entire structure swallowed up by the tree – the doorway is now just a shadowy space that leads into the heart of a huge tangle of foliage. Where does one end and the other begin? Which one is alive, which is dead?...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

If this book has one failing, it's the overly languid pace; this isn't a book that necessarily gets its hooks in the reader from the onset. Without much of a narrative to propel the story forward, it's easy to set it down and not feel compelled to pick it right back up. However, with its sharp social commentary and eventual emotional payoff, it rewards perseverance...continued

Full Review (527 words).

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(Reviewed by Rachel Hullett).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Aw is a precise stylist; with a few, lean images, he evokes a country on the cusp of change: a sofa still sheathed in plastic to protect it from everyday life, the rusting tin for Danish butter cookies now holding a man’s life savings, the small-time crook with three rings on each hand and cash held together with a rubber band. But at times the novel feels like a morality tale in which the message is more finely honed than the characters themselves...Perhaps, though, that is the point...The laborers who built modern Malaysia, Aw reminds us, are destined for obscurity.

The Guardian (UK)
[Aw's] achievement is to make a global story personal...[We, the Survivors] can't easily be pushed out of mind.

Sunday Times (UK)
Aw skillfully tempts the reader through the book by describing the killing in a fragmented way: the desire to know what happened keeps you engaged.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Aw masterfully conveys his protagonist's specificity while also weaving together a larger picture of the class divisions, racial biases, unjust working conditions, and gender roles that pulse under the surface...A raw depiction of one man's troubled life and the web of social forces that worked to shape it.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Aw's captivating novel (after Five Star Billionaire) revolves around a fateful moment of violence set against the backdrop of an ever-changing Malaysia...Aw's potent work entraps readers in the slow, fateful descent of its main character, witnessing his life spiral to its inevitable conclusion.

Booklist (starred review)
[From his] devastating opening line...Aw savagely erases any doubt that only the fittest survive in the ruthless world of global capitalism.

Irish Independent
Brilliantly executed...For all the injustice, inequality and unhappiness that We, the Survivors portrays, there is a strange tranquility as it reaches its thorny climax, as if accepting the toxins of modern society is the first step to neutralizing them

Author Blurb Edmund White, author of The Unpunished Vice
The ironically-titled We, the Survivors is the story of billions of human beings today?but not one reader. This is the tale of poor people?refugees, day laborers?whose lives are ruled by cruel circumstance and extreme poverty, whose struggles end in defeat, who are not meant to survive. What would be abstract in a report is here given burning, lacerated flesh. In the twenty-first century it is our Everyman, alas.

Author Blurb Édouard Louis, author of History of Violence
Tash Aw's new novel succeeds in achieving many feats: it is at once the great novel on today's racism that we have been waiting for; a masterly fresco of Southeast Asia, a region of the world that remains underrepresented in literature; and a magnificent story...We, The Survivors is one of the most beautiful and powerful books I've read in years.

Author Blurb Tahmima Anam, author of A Golden Age
Utterly absorbing to the last word...With deep empathy combined with a sharp, unflinching gaze. As with his other books, we end up loving the characters we might otherwise hate, and arguing with those we might have a natural affinity for. [Aw] manages to turn our assumptions inside out, all while creating a world that would, without him, remain out of reach and invisible.

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Beyond the Book

Bangladeshi Migrant Workers in Malaysia

Map of AsiaTash Ah's We, the Survivors is centered around a Malaysian man who has recently been released from prison, where he served time for murdering a Bangladeshi migrant worker.

Malaysia and Bangladesh are two Southeast Asian countries that have enjoyed a long and mostly amicable history; records show that Bengalis (native to Bangladesh) settled in Malaysia as early as the 15th century, and according to Bangladeshi politician Salahuddin Ahmed in his book Bangladesh: Past and Present, Malaysia was one of the first countries to recognize the independence of Bangladesh in 1972. A trade report issued by the Bangladeshi government in 2012 declared that trade between the two countries was valued at $1.2 billion USD, and according to a report by ...

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