It’s a funny story, really. How I came to properly own this book. It was the summer of 2011 and I was looking for a gift for a friend who was going for a long vacation. I wanted her to have something inspiring to read during her travels, so for her birthday, I presented her with this book.
When I saw it up there on the bookshelf, it looked lovely! It reminded me of beaches, white sands and those twirly little globes I loved when I was younger. Maybe it wasn’t the perfect “mountain” read for the likes of Rishikesh and Manali, but it would be a stimulating one nevertheless.
Map of the Invisible World. The name itself inspired me to delve deeper into places and cultures, so an aspiring globetrotter like her would surely appreciate the cover just as much as the story bound inside.
I bought it and wrote a heartfelt dedication on the title page about hoping this would kindle that adventurous spirit she was about to unleash and yada yada yada.
One year later: We fought about something or the other. In her anger, unrelated as it was to literature, she flung the book at me and said she hoped it got me as depressed as it did her.
I wasn’t to find out what she meant by that until a few months after when she confessed that she just hadn’t been in a state of mind to appreciate a dose of history with World Literature. That I had probably pitted it as a travel guide in disguise didn’t help any.
I hadn’t bought the book blindly. I did read the jacket. I knew it wasn’t about utopias, unicorns and and all that escapist stuff. But it surely wasn’t depressing, was it?
So I read the book to see for myself and decided that never again would I gift someone a book, nor would I deface the title page, without reading it first.
Because you see, Map of the Invisible World can be a little heart wrenching, yes. But really, to call it truly “depressing” is going too far! Tash Aw is a brilliant writer and it shows in every chapter throughout this book. Read my review of the book for The Caterpillar Cafe here.
I’m glad to have had this book flung back at me because I don’t think I would have bought myself another copy and read it otherwise. It isn’t depressing, thankfully. Not in my opinion, anyway. Ever read The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek? It’s a dose of depressing that doesn’t go away. Also, for someone who isn’t Indonesian or a history student specialising in colonial rules and revolutions through South East Asia in the early-mid 20th Century, how else would you truly understand the country’s historic and cultural influences if not through literature?
For a change, I’m recommending a book that deserves way more than e-space on your bookshelf. It’s a lovely book that has pride of place on my bookshelf, as do all the books I treasure. Get a hardcover if you can. Because you will cherish it too!