Some of you must be thinking, “Maphead, you’re reading FICTION ! Have you lost your mind ?!” Well, if you remember, back in January I challenged myself to read more fiction in 2010. So when March came and I realized I haven’t read one scrap of fiction, I decided I needed to pick up a few works of promising fiction on my next trip to the library. Tash Aw’s 2009 novel Map of the Invisible World is one of those books I grabbed.
Aw, author of the award-winning debut novel The Harmony Silk Factory, follows the adventures of Adam, a 16-year-old boy in 1964 Indonesia as he tries to locate his Dutch ex-pat bohemian adoptive father who has gone missing at the hands of the nation’s security forces. Along the way Adam encounters a host of characters including a middle-aged American anthropologist, her young Communist assistant, an American embassy official and the slightly enigmatic young daughter of a wealthy local business owner. As Adam searches for the whereabouts of his adoptive father, he does so against the backdrop of an Indonesia that is spiralling out of control. A huge developing nation forged by Sukarno in the aftermath of World War Two, Indonesia appears in Aw’s novel on the verge of being overtaken and ultimately destroyed by the same revolutionary energy that spawned it.
While reading Aw’s novel I thought the storyline of Adam’s estranged brother in Malaysia was a bit unnecessary, but after additional reflection I could see how it be interpreted symbolically as a commentary on Indonesia’s relationship with its northern neighbor. Ethnically and linguistically the same, they are brother countries ripped apart by circumstance, shaped by different forces and as a result unable to unite.
While I don’t think Aw’s book is the best work of fiction I have read over the last few years, I did enjoy it. Despite being the largest Muslim country on earth, there seems to be a shortage of books dealing with Indonesia. Therefore, I’m thankful to find something decent to read on the subject. Even if it’s fiction.