The Rise and Fall of 'The Harmony Silk Factory'

Tash Aw's The Harmony Silk Factory chronicles the rise and fall of a Chinese businessman, told from the point of view of three narrators.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Writer and Londoner Tash Aw was raised in Malaysia. His first novel is "The Harmony Silk Factory," and Alan Cheuse has a review.

ALAN CHEUSE reporting:

The title of Tash Aw's novel refers us to the textile shop in a Malaysian valley just east of the Strait of Malacca. The book opens with the first of three narrators: Jasper Lim, giving us the story of his Chinese father, Lim Seng Chin, otherwise known as Johnny Lim, and how he rose to power as a merchant and political force. The silk factory itself, which Johnny bought in the early 1940s, just before the Japanese occupation, is unremarkable. Johnny is anything but. As his son describes him in his early days as a cloth merchant, he likes the irregular patterns in cloth and life.

As Johnny's aristocratic wife Snow Soong, the second narrator, describes him, there was something in the way he moved with the freedom and uncertain strength of a young animal flexing its limbs.

The third narrator, Peter Wormwood, a British expatriate who becomes Johnny's best friend, views him even more complexly, as a native with an intensely inquiring mind--in fact, the only person in Singapore, where he first encounters him in a cafe, who reads Shelley.

The story of Johnny as father, husband, businessman, political figure, murderer, traitor and friend is fascinating stuff, the story of a Malaysian Gatsby. Clearly Tash Aw is a writer to watch with a first book anyone who travels by fiction will want to read.

SIEGEL: The book is "The Harmony Silk Factory" by Tash Aw. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Books Featured In This Story

The Harmony Silk Factory
The Harmony Silk Factory

by Tash Aw

Hardcover, 378 pages | purchase

close

Purchase Featured Books

  • The Harmony Silk Factory
  • Tash Aw

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: