The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw

I just finished this first-effort novel by Tash Aw and ruminating on the story. Actually not so much the storyline but the way the story was presented.

It was in the form of narration by three people and the interesting thing is that all three give their own account which differs because they narrate from their own perspective.

The Harmony Silk Factory is a story set mainly in the Kinta Valley and Dindings District from 1920 to the mid 90s. Coincidentally, I was in Taiping over the weekend when I finished the book and the drive to Taiping from KL passed through many of the geographical areas/features described in the book.

Tash Aw was born in Taiwan to Malaysian parents, he grew up in Kuala Lumpur before moving to England in his teens. He studied law at Cambridge and Warwick and then moved to London to write. After graduating he worked at a number of jobs, including as a lawyer for four years whilst writing his debut novel, which he completed during the creative writing course at the University of East Anglia, alma mater of writers such as Kazuo Ishiguro of The Remains of the Day. Indeed his writing style is reminiscence of Ishiguro.

The novel won the 2005 Whitbread Book Awards First Novel Award as well as the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Novel (Asia Pacific region). But did I enjoy the book? Well it took me 2 weeks to read so it was not exactly “unputdownable” to me!

There were quotable parts which may sound glib but need introspection to make sense of like:


“We humans have a remarkable capacity to disguise emotions.

We suppress feelings, we force ourselves to forget things until, finally, we truly believe those things never existed.

Its how we survive isn’t it?”

“What about death?”

“You mean: would I forget a person once he’s passed on?”

“Exactly. Their face – their image -would stay with you, of course. You’d remember how they looked. The details may become vague, but you’d still remember. Just like a photograph. In your mind’s eye, you’d be able to recreate all their habits – the way they slept, how they ate: everything. But would you remember how you felt about them? And how they felt about you?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Nor would I. Death, I believe, erases everything. It erases all traces of the life that once existed, completely and for ever. Of course we help it in its task – we’re the ones who do the forgetting”

Well, maybe but…………………

In the final analysis, I think Tash Aw has potential but I believe this young man needs to gather more “experience” in order to be more emphatic in his writing. The book was certainly not worth the RM40.00 I paid for it; worth a read out of curiosity but only if it was borrowed.

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