Born in Taipei, Taiwan, to Malaysian parents, he grew up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He had a multilingual upbringing, speaking Malay, Mandarin, Cantonese and English during his youth. Aw eventually relocated to England to study law at Jesus College, Cambridge and at the University of Warwick before moving to London to write. After graduating he worked at a number of jobs, including as a lawyer for four years whilst writing his debut novel, which he completed during the creative writing course at the University of East Anglia.
His first novel, The Harmony Silk Factory, was published in 2005. After Malaysian journalists reported that he had been paid over £500,000 for the novel, The Star and The New Straits Times called him the "RM3.5 million man", and local interest in his book deal continues today, even though the novelist himself has consistently denied the size of this advance, preferring to talk about the novel, which was longlisted for the 2005 Man Booker Prize and won the 2005 Whitbread Book Awards First Novel Award as well as the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Novel (Asia Pacific region). It also made it to the long-list of the world's prestigious 2007 International Impac Dublin Award and the Guardian First Book Prize. It has thus far been translated into twenty languages. Aw cites his literary influences as Joseph Conrad, Vladimir Nabokov, Anthony Burgess, William Faulkner and Gustave Flaubert.
His second novel, titled Map of the Invisible World, was released in May 2009 to critical acclaim, with TIME Magazine calling it "a complex, gripping drama of private relationships," and describing "Aw's matchless descriptive prose", "immense intelligence and empathy." His 2013 novel Five Star Billionaire was longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize.
- "The American brick problem", Prospect, Issue 122 (May 2006)
- "To The City", Granta, 100 (Winter 2007)
- "Sail", A Public Space, Issue 13 (Summer 2011)
- "Tian Huaiyi", McSweeney's 42 (December 2012)
- "Tiger" (January 2013)
- The Face: Strangers On A Pier (2016)
- "Look East, Look To The Future", Granta.com, 25 May 2012
- "My Hero, Rudy Hartono", The Guardian, 9 August 2013
- "You Need To Look Away: Visions of Contemporary Malaysia", The Weeklings, 4 April 2014
- "Heart and Soul in Every Stitch", Granta.com, 16 April 2014
- X-24: Unclassified (2007) (co-editor with Nii Parkes)
Based on royalties as well as prizes, Aw is the most successful Malaysian writer of recent years. Following the announcement of the Booker longlist, the Whitbread Award and his Commonwealth Writers' Prize award, he became a celebrity in Malaysia and Singapore, and is now one of the most respected literary figures in Southeast Asia.
- Official website
- The first chapter of The Harmony Silk Factory in PDF file
- Biography from the international literature festival berlin
- Cover Story: Tash for Cash in TheEdgeDaily.com
- Whitbread Book Awards
- The man behind the author, an interview on a Malaysian website
- 2013 interview in The New York Times
- Staying true to his beliefs
- Is Tash Aw the Malaysian Graham Greene? by Charles R. Larson