Abstract

Bougainvillea; Casuarina; Banyan; Camphor; Jacaranda; Rubber Tree. At first glance, these trees and plants may appear native to southeast Asia, given the Malaysian2 setting for Tash Aw’s The Harmony Silk Factory but, as Peter, the English octogenarian narrator, argues in a heated discussion with several Malaysians, these plants are just as foreign as he is. For example, Peter explains, ‘Hevea brasiliensis, the rubber tree, came from Brazil via Kew … Oil palm from Africa, Bougainvillea … Does it sound like a Malay name to you? Brought here from Brazil by Louis Antoine de Bougainville’ (321–22). The reader should note the irony in the fact that a transplanted Englishman — via an author himself who has wandered from Taiwan to Malaysia to England — points out this rootlessness. If these plants really are not from Malaysia, then what heritage and roots can the Malaysian,3 who has long lived under the yoke of colonialism, claim?

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