Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Map of the Invisible World


We have spoken of this before so I will only do the Happy Recap on this subject. We are thrilled when authors we love have a new book out. Seriously, what Reader doesn't love that?

I can hear your little brain from here. Who is it this time you're wondering. Why it's household name (in my household) Tash Wa. If you say his name quickly it sounds like a magic word. Tashwa!

Wa's first book, published in 2005 and winner of the Whitbread prize for a debut novelist was The Harmony Silk Factory. It was a favorite of mine that year and I forced it into a lot of grateful hands. It is the story of Johnny Lim, a shady figure in 1940s Malaysia. Johnny's story is told by three unreliable narrators: his angry son, the son's deceased, adulterous mother via her diaries and Johnny's ex-pat friend Peter Wormwood. Depending on the whose story you believe Johnny was: a good and true friend, a Communist leader, an informer for the Japanese, a black-market businessman or a working-class Chinese. I thought it was a first rate book full of moody settings and distinct, articulate writing.

So here now is Wa's new novel, Map of the Invisible World. Once again there are multiple, disparate stories and ethnicities coming together. That is a huge hook for me. As is any book set outside of the U.S. All the world is exotic to me. In Map a distraught young orphan making his way to Jakarta to search for his Dutch foster father, the brother of that orphan raised in comfort in Malaysia questioning his luck in being adopted by a wealthy family, an American teacher, an American embassy attaché who may or may not be undercover CIA and a dangerous radical communist. None of these people are where life should have put them and none are safe. This is Indonesia in 1964. The country is one more riot away from civil war. It is the year of 'living dangerously'.

Map proves that Aw has mastered the difficult multiple storyline novel. He can sustain all the treads, the tensions and your interest over 400 pages. His writing is stunning. The details of the invisible worlds in a third world country of poverty, squalor, political machinations and murders, colonialism and the destruction of families are all brought before you. These are the big issues. Aw incorporates them and all the turbulence of a country falling apart effortlessly into the rich psychology of this novel.


P.S. I bought my copy of Map of the Invisible Word at my local independent bookstore and while I was there I also bought: When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson, The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville and just to break the Kate trend I picked up The Knitter magazine. I am excited by all 3 purchases! Those are 2 of my fav writers and 1 of my fav magazines.

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