The Harmony Silk Factory
by Tash Aw
This novel seemed to have all the right elements for me to love it, but I’m not sure I even liked it. I see a lot of Goodreads reviewers have called it 2/3 a good novel and I can see their point, but I think it fails long before the final section that others disliked.
Set in Malaysia, with its key events taking place in the 1940s, this is ostensibly the story of Jonny Lim, a poor country boy turned wealthy textile merchant, but his story is told through the lens of three narrators who all think they knew him far better than their accounts suggest is true. Was Jonny a Communist leader, a gangster, a murderer, a traitor? His son Jasper thinks so, but his account appears to be the least reliable of all.
Jasper is the first narrator. Following his father’s death, he is trying to piece together Jonny’s life from a combination of official documents, his own memories, rumours and a generous dose of his own imagination. His unreliability is so thickly laid on that I found it tedious rather than mysterious. There is some satisfaction to be had from seeing some of the events later through another perspective and finding a version of the truth that rings truer, but a lot of what Jasper covers is never revisited, so it can only ever be pure speculation.