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The Harmony Silk Factory

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3.42  ·  Rating details ·  1,751 Ratings  ·  210 Reviews
Tash Aw's highly original first novel juxtaposes three accounts of the life of an enigmatic man at a pivotal and haunting moment in Malaysian history.

The Harmony Silk Factory is the textiles store run by Johnny Lim, a Chinese peasant living in rural Malay in the first half of the twentieth century. It is the most impressive and truly amazing structure in the region, and t
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Hardcover, 378 pages
Published March 31st 2005 by Riverhead Hardcover
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Whitaker
Oh god, this is the third crap book in a row. Life's too bloody short for this!!!!!!!!!

I so wanted to like this. It's not often that a South-East Asian writer (Tash Aw is of Malaysian origin) gets international recognition. But this is utter crap.

To be honest, I didn't finish it. I gave up at around this point: [our protagonist, Johnny, is having a conversation with a communist in British Malaya]
'What I think,' Gun said, as he prised the parang [a kind of knife used in warfare] from the soil a
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BrokenTune
Feb 21, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Memories are things to be buried. They die, just as people do, and with their passing, all traces of the life they once touched are erased, for ever and completely.

Despite my initial misgivings about the book and despite the fact that the book suffered from the pressures of "having to read it" for a book group, The Harmony Silk Factory turned out to be a fairly interesting read.

Mostly set in Malaysia just before the Japanese invasion, Aw created a story that is set on the verges of different th
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Aziff
Sep 12, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I have mixed feelings about The Harmony Silk Factory. As I steadily progressed through the book, it reminded me of The Historian in terms of narrative. Harmony Silk Factory tells the tale of a mysterious Chinese Communist by the name of Johnny in a colonial Malaya through the eyes of three perspectives.

I enjoyed T. Aw's detail and storytelling, it was well-written. And given the narrative style he took on, he sheds light on the tale of Johnny in different vignettes, allowing us to look at him in
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Growlingsoulpup
Dec 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Harmony Silk Factory is a very good book. It is a very light book as well, supple and nuanced, elegantly concealing and yielding its gems in the same movement. It is not, however, a simple book, though it may appear as such to the simple reader who is unable to comprehend unreliable narration, or distinguish between a narratorial voice and the author function.

Much of Aw's concerns here revolve around the act of narrativizing itself, how history is a palimpsest, how perception and personal b
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Babak Fakhamzadeh
Though Aw won the Whitbread First Novel Award for this book in 2005, I wasn't overly impressed. Interesting for its references to Malay culture and society, I thought the novel very constructed. The central character of the book, Johnny Lim, is discussed by his son, his wife and an old friend, all highlighting very different aspects of the man and all seeing him in very different lights.
Although the concept is intriguing and the conclusion valid, that the way you see the people around you depen
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Miriiam Isa
Feb 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The story harkens one to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. As the narrative on Johnny Lim, the owner of The Harmony Silk Factory evolves from three angles – Jasper(his purported son), Snow(his wife who died after giving birth to Jasper) and Peter(English expat adrift in Malaya and Johnny’s close friend) – our understanding of his underlying character becomes more muddied.

I love it that Aw teases us to reflect on who the real Johnny Lim is.

A liar and a cheat according to Jasper who starts off
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Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
The Harmony Silk Factory is a narrative dealing primarily with Malaysia prior to the Second World War (also briefly discussing the situation during and after the war), as narrated by three distinct characters. The first section, narrated by Jasper, the son of the infamous Johnny Lim (possibly the protagonist, although we never hear from him directly), is interesting but not riveting. Jasper is the classic unreliable narrator, hating his father so much that we know he can't be objective. Second c ...more
Karel
Aug 02, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: srzbznz
I bought this book a long time ago, but was put off by the start of Peter's account and have just finished re-reading it the other day. The book is divided into three segments - narrated by three different narrators whose story circles around one man, Johnny Lim. Narrated by his son, wife and good friend, the novel is about their stories as much as his. At the end of the novel, Johnny remains as much a mystery as he was at the beginning. Is he a cold and withdrawn father, traitor, communist and ...more
Wei Ming
Apr 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A caveat: as a British Chinese Malay, I can't read any of Tash Aw's books objectively, I just can't. It's impossible to be completely so, of course, there will always be preconceived expectations going into a book, but he's writing about a country I have such a strong emotional tie to (HIS LATEST BOOK FIVE STAR BILLIONAIRE, I'M GONNA DIE). Short short short review: unreliable narrators! Overlapping Rashomon perspectives! The impact of British colonialism and Japanese invasion/occupation! Very br ...more
Theresa
Apr 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
....I spent most of the book thinking 75% of the characters were gay. I'm still not entirely sure if they were/weren't.

I see that as a bonus and it's probably one of the reasons I enjoyed this.
Kim
Jan 07, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2009
Beautiful language in places, but interminable and uninteresting.
Patrick McCoy
Tash Aw's debut novel, The Harmony Silk Factory (2006) is an impressive beginning. It is a complex historical-based novel set in Malaysia that showcases a skill in creating a number of distinct storytelling voices. It is a complex story with the enigmatic Malaysian Chinese communist/collaborator/businessman Johnny Lim at the forefront of a story told from three separate points of view. Lim, is linked to all three characters intimately, but none of them really know him or connect with him. The fi ...more
Stephanie
The story of Johnny Lim, a Malaysian who survived and profited socially and financially through World War II, is told from three perspectives: his son's, his wife's, and that of a British friend. None of the three is reliable for different reason, but each is interesting. Jasper, Johnny's son, is the most certain that he has the true story -- but his tale is filled with folklore that has grown up around his father and disappointments at never knowing his mother who died when he was born and a fa ...more
Sorin Hadârcă
May 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asia
One of finest fiction here by the Malaysian Tash Aw. Son, wife and friend tell the story of one called Johnny, who is quite a different person depending upon who's talking. His character is elusive, so that the narrators end up telling their own stories instead. Isn't that exactly how life is? Unknown to others, unknown to self, only glimpses of facts reveal the subject now and then, never fully.
Claire
Jun 28, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked the loose writing style, I was engaged with the story, but dramatic events didn't create as much drama as they warranted. having the significant section of the story from 3 different perspectives was interesting but Peter's section seemed less considered than the others. all in all for a book picked up in a charity shop on a trip away it was a good read.
Hilary G
Dec 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nemo
Apr 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful story that shows how time and perspective can change a persons legacy and how little we know of the people right next to us
Patrick
How well you get on with this book is likely to depend somewhat on whether you enjoy or are instead irritated by, books that are puzzles to be solved, or at least, puzzled over, by their readers.

The book tells the story of Malaysian 'entrepreneur' Johnny Lim, focusing, in particular, on the events of the second world war, and his involvement with the British colonial rulers, the Chinese-backed Communist resistance and the Japanese military, who are in the process of usurping the British. It is t
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Judy
Oct 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I don't believe I have read a novel set in Malaysia before. I admit I was a little vague on where that country is and had to look it up. Tash Aw made a big splash with this first novel. His third, Five Star Billionaire is being published in July and I decided it was time to investigate this author. It was a good decision.

The Harmony Silk Factory is the textiles store of Johnny Lim who came to Malaya with his peasant family from China in the early 20th century and rose up in business and politics
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Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
This will sound glib, but this is only 2/3 of a great novel.

Here's what it's about: Johnny Lim, a boondocks kid from Malaysia who attacks a tin mine owner, disappears and then surfaces as a worked in a textile shop. He falls in with the commie crowd and takes to offing people who are in his way. Outwardly respectable, if not quite of high social standing, he is really a kind of gangster. He marries the lovely Snow Soong, the daughter of a very high-society family. They embark on a kind of honey
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Georgette
The novel is about Johnny Lim, textile merchant, petty crook and communist. His life is narrated in three parts by the people who knew him - his son Jasper, his wife Snow, and his best friend Peter Wormwood.

Jasper, who never knew his mother Snow, covered most of Johnny's life story with observations about his father and stories he's heard. He tells of how Johnny survived an assassination attempt on Merdeka Day 1957, elevating his status from mortal to god in the eyes of his community.

Snow found
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Lisa
Feb 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
this was another oakland library discard pile scoop. i think i'd really give it 3.5 stars, but since i think it needs a pump up in rating i'm posting it as 4.

i love the idea of never hearing from the central character - jimmy. i wasn't able to form a clear picture of him from the 3 incredibly varied views of the narrators jasper [son], snow [wife], peter [friend]. i love how the narrative revolves around the "TRUTH" for each of them, and yet we are never quite clear what the truth really is. suc
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Z
Oct 12, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Decidedly okay. It always felt like something was about to happen, but nothing really ever did. And there seemed to be a real lack of focus. In the end, I didn't really see what the point was, except that maybe people's perceptions are always going to be flawed. But, really, I didn't need to read this whole book to know that. So, eh. I won't be reading it again. I did love Peter, though.

Oh, and there were a couple references to how Johnny was the only one who thought that the Japanese would inva
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Neil
Aug 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-reads
More like 4.5 stars: I really enjoyed reading this. It's a story told from the viewpoint of three different narrators and we hear from each in their turn. It reminds us that we all place our own interpretation on events and remember things differently from others who were involved. The author makes the characters comes alive. Somehow, he manages to give each a different voice but it is the voice we expect them to have from reading the other parts, so there is a real consistency and believability ...more
ilham.mukhtar
This is a good read for leasure but it didn't have the much needed focus to restrict the story. The flow of the storytelling is distracted and it's hard for me to digest. You'll be surprise by how forceful Jasper is to mould the readers hatred towards his father, Johny that sometime the hatred is too much for the sin that Johny commit. Though intentional, the Jasper part should be moderated or he should have more evidendence for such hating.

Coming from Malaysia, and especially in Kinta Valley I
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Stephanie
Feb 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book. It tells the story of Malaysia just before, during and after WWII. The story is told in 3 parts, by 3 different people who all have a very different perspective on the same people and events. The main character is either a leader of the Malaysian Communist Party, or a collaborator with the Japanese. He is a humble man who tries to fit in, or perhaps power hungry and cold-hearted. The book does an excellent job of pulling you in, and is written in such an intriguing way that ...more
Nancy Doerrer
Johhny Lim is a business owner in the Kinta Valley in southernmost China (Malaysia). The story takes place just before WWII when the threat of Japanese invasion seems real to the Chinese, but not to the benevolent British occupation. Told in three sections by Johnny's alienated son Jasper, Johnny's wife Snow (via her diary) and Johnny's English expatriate friend Peter.
Charlotte
Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful descriptions of Malay / great historical context pre and post World War II in South East Asia. Aw develops characters, especially the protagonist Jimmy, fully, weaving together different generations seamlessly. Unlike some descriptive historical context novels, which can be rather stagnant, this keeps moving, shifting and gently surprising throughout.
charlotte Phillips
This complex story of three different people linked by one Chinese man in Malaysia is engaging and mysterious. Each person's story is true to their point of view and the style of language fits each one well.
Elise Noorda
Maybe even 3.5. I really did like this book. Didn't love it, but really liked it. Set in Malaysia in the early and mid 1900's, a very authentic look at the people and cultures of this diverse area of the world.
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Born in Taiwan to Malaysian parents, Tash Aw grew up in Kuala Lumpur before moving to England in his teens. He studied law at the University of Cambridge and University of Warwick, then moved to London to write. After graduating he worked at a number of jobs, including as a lawyer for four years whilst writing his debut novel, which he completed during the creative writing course at the University ...more
More about Tash Aw...
“...a small piece of silk. It was at once iridescent and delicate, and shone with a colour no Occidental could ever have conceived....I held it in my hands, allowing it to cascade from my fingers. It was shot through with so many strands of colour that every time it moved its appearance changed: moonlight, emeralds and pearls all passed through my hands. This cold chameleon so transformed itself that I could scarcely believe it was the same piece of cloth.” 3 likes
“Although harmony with nature is of considerable importance in planning a garden, it must never be allowed to obscure what lies at the heart of the design;the salvation of the human spirit. In creating a garden, we acquire, by force, a patch of land from the jungle; we mould it so that it becomes an oasis amid the wilderness. It is an endless struggle. Turn our backs for a moment and the darkness of the forest begins its insidious invasion of our tiny haven. The plants that we insert -- artificially, it must be noted, for no garden is a work of Mother Nature -- must not only provide shelter for the soul, they must be able to absorb and then disperse the creeping darkness of the jungle around us. The decorations do not merely adorn, they protect. They create a place where, at the end of our lives, we may find peace.” 3 likes
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