Monday, February 3, 2014

Dissident Voices by Clement Mesenas


I saw a review on this book on The Straits Times last week and when I saw David Marshall's name on it, I knew I had to get it (I'm working on a book about Singapore's forefathers). So I bought it just before lunch at Clementi Mall's Popular Bookstore. 

The chapter on David Marshall was devoured fairly quickly. There wasn't much that was new to me, having read both his biographies by Chan Heng Chee and Kevin Tan. But I suppose it was a rather good summary of his life for someone who's reading about him for the very first time. 

I then continued with the chapter on Catherine Lim, followed by Lim Chin Siong, Ong Eng Guan because I was more familiar with their names and was interested to find out more. I was not disappointed. It was a pretty good read. However, I'd noted by now that the author admires all these figures rather ardently which made me wonder how unbiased it was. But hey, with a title like that, what was I suppose to expect?

The book was then read in the proper order, and I skipped the chapters I'd already read of the four above mentioned personalities. It was an eye-opener. So much of Operation Coldstore and Operation Spectrum executed by the Government has been lost to textbook history until now. For all censorship and eye for detail the ISA (Internal Security Act) that I discovered in the process of reading, I was surprised this book even got published. And I'm pretty impressed too. 

Turns out that most of the dissidents have been jailed for their words or deeds by ISA. If they haven't been, they've been threatened. Brave souls these people are. What's most inspiring is the lack of hatred and animosity some of them possess even after such trial. Wow.

This is an excellent read for every Singaporean as an introduction to 10 Singapore's dissident voices. Their stories can be quite heart-rending. 

Unfortunately, as is the case with such books, the author seems intent to point out all the faults of the People's Action Party (PAP) and neglects to mention all the good work done. I thought it might be good to round up the book evaluating the pros and cons of the ISA but the author nudges the reader to form his own conclusions that the ISA should be done away with after all the hurt and heartbreak it has caused. 

Still, I'd recommend this book to anyone, just note that it is slightly biased. Then again, who isn't?

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