Twice nominated for the Booker, the Malaysian author is shining a light on immigration stories rarely told in fiction – where ‘every non-white person dreams of coming to the west’

“It is the most personal novel I’ve ever written,” says Tash Aw of his fourth novel We, the Survivors. “It is very close to my heart.” For this reason, it was also the most difficult to write. It is the story of Ah Hock, born in a poor fishing village in Malaysia, whose dreams of self-improvement are destroyed in an act of senseless violence – Camus’s L’Étranger shadows the novel.

Twice Booker-longlisted, the 47-year-old author fits in comfortably with the youthful, snappily dressed crowd at the industrial London restaurant where we meet. But this is a world away from the one depicted in his novel – where people survive from day to day, at the mercy of the elements, where “the sun is the enemy”. Both of Aw’s grandfathers came from China and his parents “were born into very humble families” in rural Malaysia, where the countryside means only one thing: “deprivation”.

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Read More Tash Aw: ‘It used to be that Asia was poor. “Asians are rich” is the new cliche’

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