Singapore is a tiny island nation that has progressed from being a third world country to becoming a first world nation in just 50 years. Lee Kuan Yew is the founding father of Singapore and was almost singlehandedly responsible for its creation and progress. The Singapore Story is his autobiography and tells the story from his birth up to the birth of Singapore.
Singapore’s accent into world politics has been spectacular. In just 50 years, Singapore has revamped its infrastructure, provided a free and progressive business environment to entrepreneurs, eradicated corruption and provided clean, affordable living condition to its citizens along with excellent healthcare. Lee Kuan Yew, often described as an autocratic, strong willed leader was the brains behind all this and guided the country through its remarkable progress.
This book is an autobiographical account of the times that Lee Kuan Yew lived in. It spans the years 1923 to 1966 and gives first hand glimpses of Singapore during the British Colonial rule, the horrors of the Second World War, the cruel occupation by the Japanese, freedom from the British, merger with Malaysia, followed finally by the expulsion of Singapore from the Malay Union. The conversational and intimate style of story-telling make the descriptions poignant: when LKY describes domestic hardships during Japanese occupation, when he describes how he is unable to cope as a student in London, when he narrates the political struggles of an emerging leader who is trying to appeal to a culturally diverse population, such examples abound. Intricate details like the process of glue-making for a makeshift business during the World War or details about how he learnt a local language well enough to sound convincing to the native speakers, come directly from a man who has a sharp mind, is hands-on and is completely grounded.
The style is conversational, intimate and follows a linear time sequence. This makes the story easy to follow, even when he is narrating events that are out of the realm of common public understanding, like secret negotiations of political leaders of various nations. Even as ordinary citizens, it is not difficult to follow the nuances of major political negotiations, appreciate the magnitude of his battles against organised communism, or understand his fear for personal safety.
I have a lot of respect for Singapore-a tiny city state devoid of natural resources. I wanted to read the book to find out how Singapore has achieved this outstanding progress in just 50 years. The book could not answer this question as LKY has written his autobiography in 3 parts. The Singapore Story is the 1st of this series. The next one ‘From third world to first’ would address my query better. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to know how a brilliant student became the most important national figure of an emerging nation using his sharp wit, mental stamina, strength of character and hard work. It was also intriguing to know how LKY masterminded and went all out to secure a merger with Malaysia and finally also chose to break away from it. The sequence of events leading up to the break-off provides a heady adrenaline rush to the reader who is unfamiliar with the secret dealings of world leaders. It was an immensely educational experience for me as I glimpsed LKY’s perspective of how world leaders thinks and act, their insecurities, ambitions, leadership and negotiation styles.
Book Reviewed by Ashmita Saha
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