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Meanwhile, American ex-pat professor Margaret Bates is reminded of her teenage love for Karl after an embassy contact informs her he's been arrested.

The human energy structure in the invisible world.

Soon, Adam arrives on Margaret's doorstep, and though practical, good-natured Margaret has never felt any maternal longings, the two bond instantly. Their search for Karl continues amid the riots and protests filling the city streets, but is interrupted when Adam is kidnapped by a Communist student with a sinister agenda.

With the help of a friend, Margaret uses every ounce of diplomacy she has to find Karl and Adam and construct the family she's discovered she's wanted all along. Well-paced and gorgeously written, this epic story of loss and identity mirrors the struggles of the young Indonesia in which it takes place. View Full Version of PW. More By and About This Author.

Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw

Buy this book. Karl, a Dutch Indonesian artist who pledged himself to the new country after its independence was recognised in , has nurtured Adam, a boy of "neutral Indo-Malay features", whom he took from an orphanage aged five. Yet this is the summer of , as the army confronts communists and politicians whip up xenophobia, with blanket repatriation of Dutch from the old colonial power, and the bellicose policy of Konfrontasi - a territorial dispute with the newly independent but British-backed Malaysia.


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The novel is driven partly by Adam's search for Karl as civil war looms. The other spur is a psychological quest. Adam's elder brother was adopted before him, and the separation haunts both their lives, which are narrated in parallel. Johan, now part of a wealthy Malaysian family in Kuala Lumpur but self-destructive with guilt at abandoning his sibling, speeds around the young city in his daddy's Mercedes, with the sense that "your life is not your own Yet as Adam slowly recovers memories of his lost brother, the search for his father - though no blood relation - comes to assume greater urgency.

Map of the Invisible World, by Tash Aw

Adam seeks out an American anthropologist, Margaret Bates, whom Karl captivated as a young painter in 30s Bali. Now a university teacher in Jakarta who downs cocktails in the Hotel Java, Margaret hunts for her lost love with the aid of the US embassy official Bill Schneider, and an Australian journalist. As the political crisis worsens, and they run into mobs mouthing anti-American slogans, the search is complicated by communist ferment on campus, a research student, Din, hatching a bomb plot against the president, and Bill's recruitment of Margaret into his diplomatic efforts, for which she engineers an audience with President Sukarno.

Aw's prose can be powerful and mesmerising in its sense of place Jakarta's alleys are "filled with the aroma of incense and cooking and blocked drains" and psychological acuity.


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  • Adam's past is "like a splinter embedded deep in his skin", and when his childhood friend Neng disappears with her family, perhaps returning home after transmigration the policy of forced displacement to less populated areas , he relives the "bitter numbness" of loss. Flashbacks to his loving if austere upbringing have a richness, as when he imbibes the region's history through tales of shipwrecked cargos, of opium from British India, or wine from Oporto and Madeira.

    Less compelling are the limply plotted elements of political thriller and diplomatic intrigue, and an ending that strives for a schematic inclusiveness.

    Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw [in Bloomsbury Review]

    Instead of the usual climax of expat heroes escaping, here a newly constituted family, made up of both Asians and Europeans, drives deeper into the archipelago. Margaret's portrayal is curiously poised between affection and irony.