The Map of the Invisible World is set in the tumultuous 1960s. A period where President Sukarno’s government was embarking on a number of socially charged projects such as the “Forced Indonesian population transmigration” program and Dutch-Colonial resident repatriation. Society was undergoing a major upheaval and social transformation, political and social turmoil were rampant. The fabric of society was tearing at the seams, wrestling with conflict, with a Communist uprising brewing, anti-Colonialist sentiments directed at Dutch residents and patriotic pride as Indonesians try to reclaim the country for themselves. Imagine the scene set in the Year of Living Dangerously by C. Koch.
The Map of the Invisible World is fabulously evocative and seamlessly binds together several characters stories all of which overlap. At its core is the journey of two brothers, a Dutch man and an American woman all of whom are struggling with identity (like the Republic of Indonesia).
We meet Adam a sixteen year old Indonesian, who spent his early life in an orphanage. During these early days he was separated from his only family, his brother Jonas. Jonas was adopted and taken to live in Malaysia with a wealthy family. Adam was later adopted by Dutch father and artist Karl who lives on a small idyllic island. Adam yearns for his brother and his family history and the overwhelming urge to belong. Feeling somewhat lost, even though he is loved and well cared for by Karl. However when Karl is taken away by soldiers Adam once again becomes orphaned. He embarks on a journey to Jakarta. It is a wild attempt to find Karl. Adam is tracing a link in Karl’s history. He has found an old photo of Karl with a woman. She turns out to be American expat Margaret. On this journey Adam loses and attempts to find himself.
The oppressive humidity, the denseness of the city’s population, the smouldering violence, the fight for identity are all evocatively portrayed. This is a fabulous highly recommended read.
This is the second book from author Tash Aw, who wrote the prize-winning debut novel The Harmony Silk Factory.