The Harmony Silk Factory, Paperback Book
3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


A landmark work of fiction from one of Britain's most exciting new writers: `The Harmony Silk Factory' is a devastating love story set against the turmoil of mid-twentieth-century Malaysia.Set in Malaysia in the 1930s and 40s, with the rumbling of the Second World War in the background and the Japanese about to invade, `The Harmony Silk Factory' is the story of four people: Johnny, an infamous Chinaman - a salesman, a fraudster, possibly a murderer - whose shop house, The Harmony Silk Factory, he uses as a front for his illegal businesses; Snow Soong, the beautiful daughter of one of the Kinta Valley's most prominent families, who dies giving birth to one of the novel's narrators; Kunichika, a Japanese officer who loves Snow too; and an Englishman, Peter Wormwood, who went to Malaysia like many English but never came back, who also loved Snow to the end of his life.

A journey the four of them take into the jungle has a devastating effect on all of them, and brilliantly exposes the cultural tensions of the era.Haunting, highly original, `The Harmony Silk Factory' is suspenseful to the last page.


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A story set in Malaysia before the second unpleasantness told through the voices of three of the participants. I found the first two parts interesting but the style adopted for the third was so (intentionally) pretentious that I got really quite irritated by it. On the whole though, a decent, mostly enjoyable read with a realistic take on the different ways the people involved in a incident have different perceptions of each other and what was going on around them.

Review by

The story is set in pre-Independence Malaya. The Japanese have invaded China, and rumour is that they were making their way to take over Malaya as well. Johnny is getting worried, because being a communist during this era is like having an express on-way ticket to torture and death. His wife, Snow, is a rare beauty, and could potentially present even more harm to the family by attracting the attention of the Japanese army.Amidst all this rife and tension, comes the story of how Johnny came to be the influential man he is. His son, convinced that his father is an evil man, goes on a personal quest to unearth the mysteries that shroud the character that no one seems to be able to fully understand. His perspective is a biased one, as the son is convinced of his father’s guilt of all possible crimes, even before we are told of his story.We then take on a very different view of what actually transpired during those days just prior to the Japanese Occupation in Malaya, this time through Snow’s diary. She tells a vivid tale of her feelings, of the men she meets, and through this, we see a different side of Johnny that was not apparent in the first part of the story-telling.The third perspective is fed to us by Johnny’s best friend, and possibly his only friend. Peter relives the memories of his past, giving us even more clues to this enigma named Johnny. No longer is Johnny just a cold-blooded traitor, but he is now painted as someone with genuine feelings, with insecurites, and with the naivete of a child that makes him more human than what his son set him out to be.The story is a discovery of how it is never fully possible to understand another human being, no matter how close or tight the bonds you may share. It is a discovery of how one man, one issue, one event, can be coloured simply through the eyes of the one who views it. We present ourselves with reasons, excuses, or even stories, to explain things we cannot fully comprehend. We wear coloured glasses when we view the world around us, the tint of these glasses determined by our own feelings and experiences.