The Harmony Silk Factory - Tash Aw

Memories are things to be buried. They die, just as people do, and with their passing, all traces of the life they once touched are erased, for ever and completely.

Despite my initial misgivings about the book and despite the fact that the book suffered from the pressures of “having to read it” for a book group, The Harmony Silk Factory turned out to be a fairly interesting read.

Mostly set in Malaysia just before the Japanese invasion, Aw created a story that is set on the verges of different things: the demise of colonial rule in Malaya, the fledgling rise of communism, the impending Japanese occupation. Nothing is set. Neither the circumstances of the story, nor the characters.

The story is that of a man, Johnny Lim, yet, none of the story is told by Lim himself. We have three narrators, his son, his wife, his (supposedly) best friend, all of whom give their memory of Johnny Lim, and not one of whom is a reliable narrator.

So, having marvelled at the book all the way through it, I am no longer sure that anything described in the book truly happened. Or at least not in the way, it appears.
For example, there is a drowning that is not a drowning, a father who may not be a father, an act of treason, that may not have been one.

What remains, however, is that Johnny Lim’s story mostly seems to be a story of betrayal. It’s either people themselves who commit this betrayal or it is their memory.

Not bad for a book that I did not think I would enjoy.


Where the book falls down, tho, is in that the abundant descriptions drag on and that it jumps so much between characters and time periods that it is confusing to follow.


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