Review Blog

Jun 02 2009

Map of the invisible world by Tash Aw

cover image

Harper Collins, 2009.
(Ages 14+) Adam and Joshua are brothers who've been separated since their adoption from an Indonesian orphanage. They have led very different lives. Joshua has been brought up by a wealthy Malaysian family, whilst Adam has lived his live simply on a remote Indonesian island with Karl, a Dutch-Indonesian. Indonesia is unstable: Sukarno has rejected the West and is courting aid from the Communist Bloc, students are staging increasingly violent demonstrations and Westerners are no longer enjoying their privileged life style.
When Karl is removed from his home by the army Adam is left to ponder his future. His life with Karl is simple and frugal, though, one of comfort compared to many others in his village. His education has been nurtured by Karl, he speaks English, but Karl has ensured he is an Indonesian and has discouraged any attempts by Adam to learn about his Dutch heritage or language.
Joshua's life with his brother and sister is very different. Joshua is indulged by his Mummy, while Bob and Farrah his adopted siblings seem to be in awe of him. But his life is aimless, his thrills coming from drugs and driving recklessly in the dark. He has memories, and feelings of guilt, about his younger brother whom he protected in the orphanage and then left abandoned when he was taken by his new family.
When Adam tries to find Karl in Djakarta he meets some people from Karl's past, including Margaret a self assured American anthropologist, as well as Din, who seeks to use Adam's innocence for his own violent political purposes. Eventually Adam finds some answers to many of the questions he's been asking for years. On the other hand, Joshua seems as aimless and doomed as ever, while Margaret's self assurance is steadily unraveling. She seems unable to read the Indonesian people, something she always believed she could do, and life itself no longer holds the truths she once confidently espoused.
A good read for senior students, looking for a different coming of age novel or who is interested in Asian Studies, this novel gives a great background into Indonesia in the Sukarno years.
Mark Knight

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