Tash Aw’s The Harmony Silk Factory (2005) is a novel of war memories, dealing with the Japanese Occupation of Malaya and its aftermath. Longlisted for the Man Booker prize, this novel comprises three inconsistent narratives about the mysterious past of Johnny Lim, an ex-Malayan communist and later a Chinese tycoon in Kampar, Malaysia. The article suggests that the characterization of Johnny as a Malayan Communist and absent father can be read as an allegory of the repressed memory of the Malayan communists, who cooperated with the British to resist the Japanese invasion but ended up being “betrayed” by the British government and later by the Malaysian government. Belonging to the “postmemory” generation, Johnny’s son Jasper learns about the Japanese Occupation through archival resources. His accusation against Johnny demonstrates how the historical event is only partially remembered by the one who was not there. This essay also points out that while on the one hand Harmony underscores the discrepancy between history and memory, and shows us how a postgeneration writer imagines and characterizes the Malayan Chinese of the 1940s, on the other hand the novel makes clear the risks Aw faces in attempting to revisit the now-absent past of his homeland. Writing about wartime Malaya outside Malaysia is, for this diasporic Malaysian Anglophone novelist, all about the politics of “post”ness in the senses of both postcolonialism and postmemory.
KEYWORDS: Japanese Occupation of Malaya, Tash Aw,The Harmony Silk Factory, absent father, Malayan Communist, postmemory