Death of A Perm Sec by Wong Souk Yee


I didn’t know what this book was about, except that it was an Epigram Fiction Prize finalist until I borrowed it from the library. After reading the first few chapters, I realised it was inspired by the story of the HDB minister Teh Cheang Wan, who committed suicide after a corruption investigation. As Epigram’s boss Edmund Wee often says, inspirations for writers are abound – just read local news.

What’s interesting to me is how the author chooses to name her characters in the book. PM of Singapore is Mr Edward Wee, (Edmund Wee,  publisher,  *wink wink*) and who should be the children of the perm sec Chow who committed suicide – there is a Hoong, Ling and a Yang…and a Ming just to soften whatever link there is. (It’s not just me who is imagining things right?) 

I had some problems with the omniscient POV in the first chapter but this is quickly rectified as I progressed as we follow the four adult children of Chow through their POVs. Set in the 80s, there is this tinge of anti-government, criticism of policies or just the distaste for the money-mindedness of the government and Singaporeans as a whole, which prompted me to read the back page about the author and the blurbs. Not surprising, Wong was a detainee of ISA and the blurbs are contributed by some well-known critics of the government, other than Philip Jeyaretnam, brother of another opposition leader but not known as a critic himself. I wish she would leave the info about being a detainee of ISA out so that I can read this book without any bias.

I enjoyed the story, although I generally did not give too much focus on the political plots and the chapter of Edward Wee’s diary, which I found redundant. The portrayal of her characters is very realistic, especially Ling, and how she survived the detention was poignant in the book, especially after what I learned about the author.

I read many books and what I discover about Asian writers is their fondness for bombastic vocabulary, in this case: comeuppance, epicanthus fold (I like this word), cornucopia, etc – a tad irritating when I was reading the book during a long journey in Sri Lanka with no wifi to check the dictionary.

After reading the book, I say kudos to NLB for having it on the shelf, which speaks more than Epigram publishing it or whatever fear the author had harboured before the book was published.


About vickychong

Just an ordinary woman.
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