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The Harmony Silk Factory    by Tash Aw order for
Harmony Silk Factory
by Tash Aw
Order:  USA  Can
Riverhead, 2005 (2004)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

Who is Johnny Lim? The crook his son thinks he is? The mistake of his beautiful wife's life? Or the true friend that Peter Wormwood, a theatrical Englishman, would like him to be? We have to make up our own minds by reading between the lines of these three points of view.

The Harmony Silk Factory is an amazingly accomplished first novel. We get a sense of what life was like in Malaysia at the beginning of World War II, with the suspicions the Malaysians had of the Chinese, British and most of all the Japanese invaders. Yet that is all background. The character studies are of foremost importance, and they come to life so well. Each narrator has a distinct voice - from the judgmental pronouncements of Jasper, the son, to the musings of Johnny's wife Snow in her journal, and on to Peter's self-mocking account.

It is the delayed honeymoon trip to the mysterious Seven Maiden Islands, with its adventure and tragedy, that allows Snow to acknowledge her mistake in marrying Johnny, and her attraction to Kunichika, the enigmatic Japanese professor, while Peter, who is in love with Snow, must stand by both Johnny and Snow as they make foolish mistakes. Finally, though, who Johnny really is remains shrouded in mystery, because the narrators have such different ideas about him. Read this interesting book and decide for yourself!

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