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We, the Survivors: A Novel Hardcover – September 3, 2019
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“[Aw’s] Asia is neither sentimental nor a stereotype . . . Aw is a precise stylist; with a few, lean images, he evokes a country on the cusp of change: a sofa still sheathed in plastic to protect it from everyday life, the rusting tin for Danish butter cookies now holding a man’s life savings, the small-time crook with three rings on each hand and cash held together with a rubber band.”
―Hannah Beech, The New York Times Book Review
“Ah Hock is an excellent protagonist, among the best I've encountered in years. He’s lovable and empathy-stirring, and his mix of remorse, acceptance, and hope is profoundly moving. Reading him is a pleasure, as is reading Aw’s prose. Aw is a beautiful writer who― this is rare― excels at switching beauty off, or dimming it almost to nothing.”
―Lily Meyer, NPR
“Aw masterfully conveys his protagonist’s specificity while also weaving together a larger picture of the class divisions, racial biases, unjust working conditions, and gender roles that pulse under the surface . . . A raw depiction of one man’s troubled life and the web of social forces that worked to shape it.” ―Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
“Aw’s captivating novel revolves around a fateful moment of violence set against the backdrop of an ever-changing Malaysia. In an almost stream-of-consciousness work, readers become the proverbial fly on the wall . . . Aw’s potent work entraps readers in the slow, fateful descent of its main character, witnessing his life spiral to its inevitable conclusion.” ―Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“[From his] devastating opening line . . . Aw (Five Star Billionaire, 2013) savagely erases any doubt that only the fittest survive in the ruthless world of global capitalism.” ―Booklist (Starred Review)
“[Aw’s] achievement is to make a global story personal . . . [We, the Survivors] can’t easily be pushed out of mind.” ―Anthony Cummins, The Guardian
“Aw skillfully tempts the reader through the book by describing the killing in a fragmented way: the desire to know what happened keeps you engaged.” ―Sunday Times (UK)
“Brilliantly executed . . . For all the injustice, inequality and unhappiness that We, the Survivors portrays, there is a strange tranquility as it reaches its thorny climax, as if accepting the toxins of modern society is the first step to neutralizing them” ―Hilary A. White, Irish Independent
“The ironically-titled We, the Survivors is the story of billions of human beings today―but not one reader. This is the tale of poor people―refugees, day laborers―whose lives are ruled by cruel circumstance and extreme poverty, whose struggles end in defeat, who are not meant to survive. What would be abstract in a report is here given burning, lacerated flesh. In the twenty-first century it is our Everyman, alas.”
―Edmund White, author of The Unpunished Vice
“Tash Aw’s new novel succeeds in achieving many feats: it is at once the great novel on today’s racism that we have been waiting for; a masterly fresco of Southeast Asia, a region of the world that remains underrepresented in literature; and a magnificent story . . . We, The Survivors is one of the most beautiful and powerful books I’ve read in years.” ―Édouard Louis, author of History of Violence
“Utterly absorbing to the last word . . . With deep empathy combined with a sharp, unflinching gaze. As with his other books, we end up loving the characters we might otherwise hate, and arguing with those we might have a natural affinity for. [Aw] manages to turn our assumptions inside out, all while creating a world that would, without him, remain out of reach and invisible.”―Tahmima Anam, author of A Golden Age
About the Author
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This isn’t a mystery or thriller; the story of homicide is less poignant than the story of Ah Hock’s survival, ambition, and his struggling rise from poverty in a village 50 miles from Kuala Lumpur. He grew up in the 1980s, in a village that was isolated before industrialization led to bridges, roads, and passages closer to the city.
Ah Hock’s obscure beginnings relied on fishing and later the fish factories. His father left for Singapore when he was young and never returned, leaving his mother to fend for them. Her own evolution was rough, but she did teach Ah Hock the will to survive above all. After he met a friend of sorts, Keong, a much older boy that was a hustler and wannabe gangster, Ah Hock began to develop his own kind of values and attitude related to the word at large. His ambition in youth was to be a tycoon, but as he matured, he longed to work in a comfortable job with a nice salary, and find a good wife. Although he tried to shake off his association with Keong, the hustler would reappear in his life, a magnet for trouble. Keong still wanted his big dreams of becoming a tycoon.
This is not a fast paced or action-packed book. It is a measured, unhurried, and nonlinear portrayal of a young man’s life, and the choices he made. The author explores themes of heritage, hope, and fate, as well as attitudes toward immigrants and the implications of the class system. But it never patronizes or preaches. Tash Aw is a keen writer who gives a finely wrought depiction of one man’s life of hope and dreams. “The more we longed for something, the more impossible it became. You only dream about things you can never obtain.”
There are also subtle things about the rhythms of village life, the effects of modernization on outlook, and the desire for obscurity by Ah Hock’s ancestors who lived through war and preferred invisibility to transparency, and how fate shapes our character. Besides Ah Hock, we are intimately drawn in to the lives of the people he’d known—family, friends, wife, workers, acquaintances. Many of the passages were penetrating, painful, flanged with regret—but often with the bittersweet tides of hope.
“What she’d hated back then, she now loved: the sense of continuity, of surrendering…the pulling in of her horizons, the comfort to be found in the death of ambition.”
Thank you to the publishers of Farrar, Straus and Giroux for sending me a copy.