Monday, May 18, 2009

BOOK: Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw

Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw, 342 pages

Published in '09; Orbis Terrarum: Malaysia/Indonesia

I don't know enough about the history in Indonesia to comment on what all happened in this book, but this book made me want to look up and read some other books about Indonesia in the 1960s. I know there was a movie called The Year of Living Dangerously, but I didn't realize it was based on a book based on a speech by the president and I wasn't aware that the Dutch 'owned' Indonesia before their independence. Indonesia in this tumultuous period is the setting for this novel, providing a backdrop for some broken lives.

Adam's foster father Karl, has been taken into custody as a part of a repatriation program, and Adam hasn't seen his brother since they were separated at the orphanage ten years earlier. He goes to Margaret, an American who has lived in Indonesia for most of her life and has a connection to Karl from her teenage years, for help in finding Karl. Margaret and her American contacts are in a bad spot as the climate between US and Indonesia are not good. Adam ends up meeting some students from Margaret's university and gets caught up some revolutionary activities.

It sounds a bit complicated, but it is not. The book looks at the growing pains in Indonesia in 1960s through the lives a small number of people. Some interesting questions of what makes a person a citizen of a country - by birth or by choice, as well as families made by birth or by choice are raised. Margaret is white but has Indonesia in her heart and really understands the land, but is considered an outsider. Karl is Dutch by heritage, but has lived a quiet life on an outer island and not part of any ruling class except by his heritage. Adam is Indonesian but doesn't feel like he belongs anywhere. His real brother, living a privileged life in Malaysia, is the biggest outsider within his adopted family.

All in all a good read. The setting and history in Indonesia were very good, and the main character of Margaret was independent and strong. Adam was a smaller character even though it is his life that is the center of the book. With the immigration of people all around the world, it is a good idea to think about what makes a person a citizen of a town or country, and it isn't just being born there. It must get very complicated in countries that were colonies of the European nations, with generations that have lived in and grown up there, but are still considered outsiders.


  1. I really enjoy reading books that make me look up things of interest. Sounds like a really good read!

  2. This sounds like an interesting read and not something that I would usually pick up. Thanks for reviewing it!

  3. This sounds like a book I would really like. Thanks for the thought provoking review.

  4. This sounds interesting. I will have to add it to the list

  5. Excellent book, I live in KL and it has helped me understand the paradoxical love/hate relationship that ID and MY have with each other.


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