The Arts

Tash Aw

An internationally acclaimed Malaysian writer, Tash Aw is one of the major contemporary literary figures from Southeast Asia


Tash Aw is the novelist behind the gripping The Harmony Silk Factory, Map of the Invisible World, Five Star Billionaire and We, The Survivors. He’s also written short stories and essays for Granta and The New Yorker, among others.

Born in Taiwan, Aw’s Malaysian parents moved their family back to the motherland when he was two. He grew up in the Kinta Valley, the setting of his debut novel, before leaving to England to read law at the Universities of Cambridge and Warwick. Wanting to write, he worked as an auction-house porter and a Chinese-language tutor while penning his first novel, before working in a law firm for four years to sustain himself.

He eventually quit, enrolled to obtain an MA in creative writing and published his debut novel The Harmony Silk Factory in 2005. The story, which highlights the challenge of knowing the real story or person—as illustrated by the book’s three narrators’ individual perspectives about the central character, Johnny Lim—was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. It also won the 2005 Whitbread First Novel Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (South-East Asia and South Pacific Region Best First Book). Aw’s fictional stories explore themes like colonialism, alienation, immigration and marginalisation, and highlight the underlying realities of society that people ignore.

Now based in London, Aw often returns to Asia and is a writer-in-residence at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He recently published Strangers on a Pier, which he calls “my love letter to Malaysia.”

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Did you know?

Tan Twan Eng, another Malaysian writer, and Tash Aw attended the same school for their A-Levels. But Aw was a year ahead of Tan and so the two never met, until they both respectively gave up law to become writers. 

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