From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This exquisite and haunting second novel from Aw (The Harmony Silk Factory
) follows a vibrant cast searching for a sense of home during the political upheaval of 1960s Indonesia. After 16-year-old Adam de Willigen's adoptive father, Karl, is arrested by Indonesian soldiers, stranding Adam in their remote island village, he sets off for Jakarta to find him. Meanwhile, American ex-pat professor Margaret Bates is reminded of her teenage love for Karl after an embassy contact informs her he's been arrested. Soon, Adam arrives on Margaret's doorstep, and though practical, good-natured Margaret has never felt any maternal longings, the two bond instantly. Their search for Karl continues amid the riots and protests filling the city streets, but is interrupted when Adam is kidnapped by a Communist student with a sinister agenda. With the help of a friend, Margaret uses every ounce of diplomacy she has to find Karl and Adam and construct the family she's discovered she's wanted all along. Well-paced and gorgeously written, this epic story of loss and identity mirrors the struggles of the young Indonesia in which it takes place. (Jan.)
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Aw’s voice seems Westernized since his debut novel, The Harmony Silk Factory (2005), as the Malaysian author takes readers to 1960s Indonesia, when opposition to President for Life Sukarno’s autocracy was the norm. Adam, 16, barely recalls his older sibling. The two orphans were separated long ago, and he has lived peacefully on an island with his adoptive father, Karl. When soldiers drag the Dutchman away as part of governmental repatriation, the boy searches for Karl in mainland Jakarta. Aw’s evocative descriptions cast the city as long past its glory and turn it into a poignant character: “In the half darkness it was easy to imagine that here, in this warren of streets, the city had not changed in two hundred years. Trapped in a maze of dead ends and unnamed streets, he could not see tower blocks or concrete.” With moving settings and memorable characters, this atmospheric and complicated tale of a rediscovered past and recovered family will engage readers interested in distant lands and timeless tales of bonds of blood and place. --Whitney Scott