Tash Aw: We the Survivors

Malaysian novel review Tash Aw

Tash Aw: We the Survivors. Finally, a truly Malaysian novel from a talented author I have been watching for a long time.

While I’ve been disappointed in the past, I realise that it would have been difficult for someone living overseas for so long (and having to pander to the vagaries of the Western market) to write a truly Malaysian novel. "We the Survivors" is no exotic Slumdog-millionaire type effort. It’s solid Malaysian novel. (Maybe he spends more time here, nowadays.)

To be honest I avoided “We the Survivors” for while (I simply hate those ‘it’s-so-wonderful’ type of reviews, or non-reviews), until I spoke to a customer who’s opinion I trusted. It took me only two pages to get me hooked. My first reaction: oh, my God, it’s so European!

Okay, some things annoyed me, (I would have done tighter editing, fact checking, etc.) but that aside, this book is a compelling read. No, a terrific read. This is no tourism brochure, for sure. It’s a hard-hitting gritty look at the life of a Malaysian underclass and our treatment of immigrant labour. There are no political or racist rants here. Tash is unforgiving, but his self-control is commendable. This is an existentialist novel. It’s about us. The survivors.

But it’s also a parody of himself; the author. Is the person who records the story of another, guilty of living off the misery of the latter? Another existentialist dilemma. (Tash does not forgive himself so easily.)

I’ve been avoiding most Anglo-American stuff for several years; same old, same old. They're still parading their old race horses like Salman Rushdie et al, as their biggest stars.

I’ll stick my neck out and say that "We the Survivors" is the one of the best books to come out of that clunky old publishing machine in a long time.

This book is highly recommended. Go grab it.


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