“We, The Survivors” by Tash Aw

Thanks to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

I honestly wasn’t really in the mood to read a fiction book as I’ve got a bunch of work related books to get through at the moment but, with a huge backlog to get through since being unwell, I grudgingly picked this up and….basically didn’t move again until I finished it.

Every so often you come across a book that grips you from start to finish. This is one of those books. The novel follows the story of a Malaysian man, Ah Hock, and how he came to be a convicted murderer. Ah Hock relates his life story to a young student who plans to write a book about Ah Hock’s life. The narrative jumps back and forth in time to put flesh on the bones of Ah Hock’s life and what circumstances led him to murder a migrant worker.

Something that really stuck out for me in this book was the complexity of the relationships between the characters. One of the key relationships in the novel is between Ah Hock and his friend, Keong. This relationship is very complicated and if anything, extremely toxic. I was often left wondering why they were friends at all. I also found the relationship between Ah Hock and his biographer interesting as they came from two hugely different backgrounds both economically and educationally. In particular, I really loved the dynamic between Ah Hock and his mother and these scenes were my favourite in the book. The struggles they endured, the sacrifices made and the bond between mother and child was very touching.

The book also explores the tensions between the Malaysian locals and the transitory and poorly treated migrant workers. The details of their plight don’t make for easy reading but, it hits home as to the true life realities of these people’s lives and the dehumanisation they suffer.

Wider issues around Globalisation, the gulf between rich and poor, the realities of living in poverty, the journey from childhood to adulthood, the seedier underbelly of society and the push and pull of Village vs City are also explored in the context of Ah Hock’s story.

The Malaysian setting felt vibrant, contemporary and real and the main character’s voice was credible and compelling.

Overall, I’d say that this was one of those novels you come across every so often that are just about perfect. Read it, you won’t regret doing so.

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