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Theme from Harry's Game, Part Two
on 14 November 2001
Having lived in Singapore in the late 90's, under the regime of Harry Lee Kuan Yew, and having read Francis Seow's A Prisoner in Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore, and Christopher Lingle's Singapore's Authoritarian Capitalism, I did not find this book of any practical use, in terms of informing an interested westerner as to what Singapore is really like.
All one gets here is some highly Aesopian and elliptical language (to put it mildly) to explain some awfully repressive behaviour. The rubbish in Singapore is certainly collected efficiently, and Western businessmen certainly genuflect towards Lee through their marketing departments in order to do business in Singapore. But where, for instance, is there in this book a candid assessment by "Senior Minister" Harry Lee Kuan Yew, of "the fear that even the most highly-educated Singaporeans feel" for their government, as author Stan Sesser puts in in his wonderful book, The Lands of Charm and Cruelty, containing a wonderful critical essay on Lee and Singapore (the description of Sesser's face-to-face confrontation with Harry, pulling banned books critical of Singapore out of his briefcase, and asking the flustered Senior Minister why no one can buy them in S'pore, is worth the price of the book alone). The Singapore I knew matched Sesser's description - my local neighbors were afraid to even discuss politics, let alone critcize Lee. But there is no frankness in Lee's book about this (nor the way Malays and Indians privately admit to feeling second-class citizens).
Other books readers may wish to read along side this enormous, uninformative memoir include Ian Buruma's The Missionary and the Libertine, with a famous essay on Lee's Singapore, "The Nanny State of Asia," and Buruma's other book, likewise with a S'pore chapter, God's Dust. Lastly, Paul Theroux's Singapore novel, Saint Jack, though set in the seventies, contains many surprisingly modern bits, in terms of the actions and attitudes of the Asian and Expat characters, still recognizable on the streets of S'pore a few years ago, and no doubt today. All these books are (at least to this former expat) far more informative of the actual Singapore of existence than Harry's fanciful autobiographical junk.