The Harmony Silk Factory

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 July, 2005, 12:00am

The Harmony Silk Factory

by Tash Aw

Harper Perennial, $96

Truth has many guises, just as people have different dimensions. This much is clear in Tash Aw's debut novel, which tells the story of Johnny Lim through his son Jasper, the diary of his wife Snow, and Lim's best friend, British expat Peter Wormwood. Set in Malaysia of the 1940s, the tale shows how the contours of their lives were shaped by historical events including the second world war, Japanese occupation and communist uprising. Lim (aka Lim Seng Chin) has more sides to him than most. He is hero and traitor, country bumpkin and sophisticate, good businessman and someone not to be trusted, and naturally winner and loser. The Harmony Silk Factory, bought just before the Japanese invasion, is a shophouse-cum-factory that serves as home and base for his many schemes. Born in Taiwan and raised Malaysian - after two years in Hong Kong, London-based Aw has said he wanted to tell the story without having to rely on setting and without any of the orientalism that afflicts so much writing about Asia. He succeeds on both counts, while driving an absorbing narrative. This novel should enjoy extended praise.