Sunday, 1 April 2007

Book Review: The Harmony Silk Factory (Tash Aw)

It's been a while since the last book review, eh? I've finished a number of books already, actually, but just haven't really gotten around to writing the review. I'll be reviewing Lady Friday soon, but I gotta get this one off my chest first, partly because someone once told me that for such a highly-rated book, Tash Aw's The Harmony Silk Factory is really nothing to shout about... And you know what? I kinda agree.

On with the review then...

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Title: The Harmony Silk Factory
Author: Tash Aw

What I Liked:
  • Quite an easy read
  • Well, the structure of the story was interesting anyway.
  • I DID like how the story connected together at some parts.

What I Didn't Like:
  • Over-exoticised setting
  • Annoying and stereotypical characters, none of which I connected enough with to care whether they died or not
  • Too much like an airport novel...
  • Saw the twists a mile away...
  • Malaya? What Malaya?

Summary:
Let me get this out of the way: I have no idea why this book is so 'highly acclaimed'. It seems like little more than a run-of-the-mill airport book with exoticised characters, and a setting that hardly does justice to the actual location it is set in.

I finished this book quite quickly, which means it's at least an easy and engaging read. Unfortunately, if that were a gauge of how good a book is, then The Da MilliVanilli Code would have been considered high literature, and not just an airport novel with an engaging story.

Which, unfortunately, is what The Harmony Silk Factory is - an over-hyped, over-exoticised airport novel that just happens to be set in Malaya. Speaking of which, for a book supposedly set in the country I live in, I felt no connection whatsoever to anything he wrote about. Never mind that it was pre-Merdeka Malaya, he could have set it in Vietnam or China and no one would have known the difference.

Seriously, why do all books set in Asia (Malaysian, Indian, Chinese etc...) seem to be over-exoticised to pander to Western audiences? It's as if the writers are writing just so that the Western readers can feel the mysticism of the Orient, never mind that the people from the place that the book is supposedly set in would probably wonder where all that exoticsm comes from.

I may be overly harsh, but heck, it's what I think, personally. For a first book, The Harmony Silk Factory is a decent effort. But don't believe the hype about it being a brilliant book, and all the awards it's won. It's a decent read, a good airport book, but that's all, really.

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