cover image We, the Survivors

We, the Survivors

Tash Aw. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-374-28724-5

Aw’s captivating novel (after Five Star Billionaire) revolves around a fateful moment of violence set against the backdrop of an ever-changing Malaysia. In an almost stream-of-consciousness work, readers become the proverbial fly on the wall as the main character, Ah Hock, a convicted murderer, tells his tale to a graduate student working on a book. In alternating chapters of Ah Hock’s rambling confession and brief personal exchanges between Hock and his interviewer, Hock’s story wanders through his poverty-ridden upbringing with a single mother, his unsuccessful marriage, his murder trial, his days in prison, and, finally, to the night he committed murder. A simple man, Hock has spent his life believing hard work would bring success; as the manager of a fish farm, he reaches that success, but when his workers develop cholera, he’s forced to find replacements. Desperate for a solution, Hock seeks help from a boyhood friend now trafficking illegal workers, and this fateful decision leads him to an act of violence he never thought himself capable of. As Hock and his interviewer seek to understand what brought him to kill, readers are drawn into a Malaysia overwhelmed with thousands of immigrants seeking refuge, employment, and survival. Aw’s potent work entraps readers in the slow, fateful descent of its main character, witnessing his life spiral to its inevitable conclusion. (Sept.)