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Map of the Invisible World: A Novel Paperback – December 28, 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (December 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385527977
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385527972
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,272,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The setting is Indonesia in 1963 and 1964, a time when Sukarno was whipping up fierce nationalist resentment against imperialism: against the British who had just set up Malaysia as an independent state when the Indonesians had hoped for a fusion between their countries, and against their former Dutch rulers and the Dutch who still lived in Indonesia, many of whom were forced to leave. Domestically, too, it is a tense time: there are demonstrations and riots against the government, especially by left-wing students, and the country was on the verge of General Suharto's murderous purge of the Indonesian communists.

The central character of the novel is Adam, a 16 year old Indonesian boy who had been adopted at the age of five from an orphanage by Karl de Willigen, a gentle Dutch artist, and who knows nothing about his parents. He is keenly aware that he is `different' from his Indonesian school fellows. He has a vague memory of an elder brother, Johan, who had also been at the orphanage but had been adopted by someone else, and he wishes he could find him again.

When the book opens, Adam sees soldiers taking Karl away from their home on the island of Nusa Perdo (which I cannot find on any atlas and which may be invented. It seems to be a ferry-ride away from the south coast of Java). Who can help him to find his adopted father? Going through Karl's papers, he finds the address in Jakarta of Margaret Bates, an American professor who had been a friend, and he seeks her out. She has contacts with an Australian journalist and with an American member of the CIA, both of whom she tries to enlist to find and help Karl.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By S. McGee TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Most of the characters in Tash Aw's remarkable, if not flawless, second novel are in search of some kind of truth about the past in order to make sense of their present and future. At its heard is the quest of young Adam de Willeg, the adopted Indonesian son of Karl, born Dutch but who has adopted Indonesian nationality in the wake of the country's independence, to find the older brother he can scarcely remember -- Johan was adopted and taken out of the country, leaving Adam behind in an orphanage -- and his desperate effort to locate Karl, who has been frogmarched out of the home they share on a remote island in the Indonesian archipelago by soldiers.

Aw sets his tale in what President Sukarno declares to be "the year of living dangerously", a year in which Sukarno breaks with the West definitively and in which the country trembles on the edge of civil war. And 16-year-old Adam is, indeed, living dangerously as he travels to turbulent Jakarta, the country's capital,n search of a woman he has never met but who seems to mean a lot to Karl, his father: American anthropologist Margaret Bates, who now works at the university. Margaret has her own past history, both with Indonesia -- the country of her birth, if not her citizenship or origins -- and with Karl, and Adam's arrival literally on her doorstep forces her to come to grips with that. Trained as an anthropologist and raised to be emotionally self-contained, Margaret now finds that the skill she most prizes -- her ability to read people and their unspoken thoughts and emotions -- seems to desert her amidst the chaos. Meanwhile, Adam's encounter with Din, Margaret's enigmatic research assistant, may drive him toward another kind of encounter with history.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By hh on April 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The above reviews nicely capture many of the book's strengths and give a good summary of plot. But there is one strength and one weakness, not addressed, that any potential buyer should know. The strength: the writing is not only seamless, but almost musical. If you read some paragraphs aloud you will find that the author has a natural (though subtle) inner rhythm that fits the topic and mood perfectly. Quite an accomplishment. The weakness: the author didn't trust the reader enough to follow through and provide a good ending. The ending is Disneyesque and yells "please let this book be commercial." Pity. The metaphors fall apart at the end because he pulls those punches. Idea: read all but the last 30 pages, devise your own ending, then see what he does with it.
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Format: Hardcover
(4.5 stars) Many Indonesians had become restless and frustrated by 1964, wanting a history apart from their colonial past, a history of "their own." Indonesia had been a Dutch colony for three and a half centuries, and had been occupied by the Japanese for much of World War II. Though long-time leader Dewi Sukarno declared the country's independence--and became President--after the defeat of the Japanese, the Dutch remained a dominating presence in the country's economy, to their own benefit far more than the Indonesians'. By 1964, when this novel opens, resentment against westerners is peaking. The Dutch are being arrested without warning and forcibly "repatriated," the Chinese and Russians are exerting significant influence, Communism has become so popular that the president and the army fear a coup, and violence has become a way of life.

Malaysian author Tash Aw recreates this turbulent period, and he does so on several levels at once. In a non-linear narrative which switches back and forth in time and among several main characters and plot lines, the author emphasizes the displacement and loss felt by all the main characters during the turmoil. Adam, a teenage orphan who has lost his mother, his brother, and his adoptive father, is particularly alienated, not sure who he really is and desperate to find out. His adoptive father Karl, a Dutch artist who has worked for many years on a remote island, has just been arrested and taken away by military police, ostensibly to be repatriated to Holland, and Adam cannot find him. Margaret Bates, a middle-aged American expatriate doing research on non-verbal communication, lives in Old Jakarta and considers herself Indonesian, but she has no close family ties and no lover.
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