Saturday, 20 April 2019

We, The Survivors by Tash Aw

We, The Survivors by Tash Aw
Published by Fourth Estate on the 4th April 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads, one of my WorldReads from Malaysia and a Book With A Vegetarian Character

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A murderer’s confession – devastating, unblinking, poignant, unforgettable – which reveals a story of class, education and the inescapable workings of destiny.

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.

In the tradition of Camus and Houellebecq, Ah Hock’s vivid and compelling description of the years building up to this appalling act of violence – told over several days to a local journalist whose life has taken a different course – is a portrait of an outsider like no other, an anti-nostalgic view of human life and the ravages of hope. It is the work of a writer at the peak of his powers.

We, The Survivors reminded me of an Indian novel I read a few years ago, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. Both books are narrated by a murderer after the crime has taken place and consist of the culprit explaining his disadvantaged life story and how it led him to commit such an awful deed. In We, The Survivors, Ah Hock is speaking to a journalist who is going to write his story for publication in a true crime book. We don't actually get to see this journalist until later in the novel so I felt as though Ah Hock was speaking directly to me. He is an engaging narrator with an unusual story to tell so We, The Survivors was, for me, a faster read than expected because I kept making excuses to keep on reading!

I was intrigued by the different portrayal of immigration in this story. Ah Hock frequently describes himself as a 'local boy' and states that his having to almost continually lived near where he grew up has given him some kind of advantage. Yet his family only fairly recently arrived as refugees from China. He is a third-generation immigrant to Malaysia so while he sees the current Bangladeshi and Rohinga migrants as desperate people who can be exploited, his own situation isn't far removed from the same straits. I could draw parallels between Malaysia and Britain (or America) where snap judgements are made about people based pretty much only on their skin tone and perceived ancestry.

We, The Survivors is quite a dark novel which depicts how carelessly awful people can be to each other when we lose a sense of shared humanity. A safe, comfortable existence is surprisingly precarious especially in such parts of the world where war or natural disasters can wipe out someone's home or livelihood overnight with no chance of recompense. Hard work alone often isn't enough for success when luck or destiny seems to be pulling in the other direction, and destiny can be patient as Ah Hock finds out.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Tash Aw / Contemporary fiction / Books from Malaysia


  1. I think the perspective of the murderer is such an interesting one because the murderer is a perspective and person you don't want to sympathise with at all... but it sounds like you could do. I don't think I have ever read a book from the murderers perspective before and now you have me curious to try one. And this would be a good place to start!

    1. I found it fascinating to follow as Ah Hock led readers to an emotional place where I think we could at least empathise with what he did, although perhaps not completely excuse it