Books

We, the Survivors

We, the Survivors is a novel by Tash Aw.

Tash Aw

Ah Hock is an ordinary, uneducated man born in a Malaysian fishing village and now trying to make his way in a country that promises riches and security to everyone, but delivers them only to a chosen few. With Asian society changing around him, like many he remains trapped in a world of poorly paid jobs that just about allow him to keep his head above water but ultimately lead him to murder a migrant worker from Bangladesh.

The question of why leads a young, privileged journalist to Ah Hock's door. While the victim has been mourned and the killer has served time for the crime, Ah Hock's motive remains unclear, even to himself. His vivid confession unfurls over extensive interviews with the journalist, herself a local whose life has taken a very different course. The process forces both the speaker and his listener to reckon with systems of power, race, and class in a place where success is promised to all yet delivered only to its lucky heirs.

An uncompromising portrait of an outsider navigating a society in transition, Tash Aw's anti-nostalgic tale, We, The Survivors, holds its tension to the very end. In the wake of loss and destruction, hope is among the survivors. (From Hamish Hamilton)

Tash Aw is an award-winning writer, whose past books include the novels The Harmony Silk Factory, Map of the Invisible World and Five Star Billionaire.

From the book

You want me to talk about life, but all I've talked about is failure, as if they're the same thing, or at least so closely entwined that I can't separate the two – like the trees you see growing in the half-ruined buildings in the Old Town. Roots clinging to the outside of the walls, holding the bricks and stone and whatever remains of the paint together, branches pushing through holes in the roof. Sometimes there's almost nothing left of the roof, if you can even call it that – just fragments of clay tiles or rusty tin propped up by the canopy of leaves. A few miles out of town, on the other side of Kapar headed towards the coast, you'll find a shophouse with the roots of a jungle fig creeping down the front pillars of the building, the entire structure swallowed up by the tree – the doorway is now just a shadowy space that leads into the heart of a huge tangle of foliage. Where does one end and the other begin? Which one is alive, which is dead? Still, on the ground floor of these houses, there'll be a business or a shop, some kind of small operation, an old guy who'll patch up your tyres for twenty bucks. Or a printing press that makes those cheap leaflets advertising closing-down sales at the local mall. Or a cake shop with nothing in the chiller cabinets except for two pieces of kuih lapis that have been there for three weeks. The packets of biscuits on the shelves are covered in the dust that drifts across from the construction sites nearby, where they're building the new railway or shopping mall or God knows what. These people haven't made a decent living for twenty years. They're seventy-five, eighty years old. Still alive, but their business is being taken over by a tree. Imagine that.


From We, the Survivors by Tash Aw ©2019. Published by Hamish Hamilton

Interviews with Tash Aw

Three writers were invited to contribute essays to a series called The Face - a look at how our faces do, and don't, reveal who we are. In 2016, they talked to Eleanor Wachtel about the deeply personal experience of writing those pieces. 59:08

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