Rebel With A Cause

Political detainee, Wong Souk Yee, one of the two winners of the Asian Woman Writer Award of the Year, talks about the making of her book, Death Of A Perm Sec

9/1/2016 3:50:09 PM
written By : Nithya Subramanian & Shobha Tsering Bhalla Print

The first Asian Women Writers’ Festival, a landmark literary event conceptualised and organised by India Se Media, set up the Asian Woman Writer of the Year Award, carrying a purse of S$5000 sponsored by well-known Singapore-based entrepreneur Sajni Gill. 

This year the award was jointly presented to Singapore’s Wong Souk Yee’s Death Of A Perm Sec and Anuradha Roy’s Sleeping On Jupiter.

The judging panel comprising literature teachers, journalists as well as publishers felt that Wong Souk Yee’s political thriller deserved the award for its bold theme and pacy writing style. She has successfully woven fiction around some real political incidents, cleverly showing us the other, lesser-known side of Singapore’s growth story. Also, the smart use of the thriller genre makes it an engrossing book for anyone who lives outside Singapore and is not familiar with its political narrative.

India Se spoke to Wong Souk Yee, who was also a student activist and a political detainee for allegedly being part of a Marxist conspiracy after presenting a play, Esperanza, about the tyranny of an employer over her domestic helper. 

Wong was a founding member of the now-defunct theatre group, Third Stage. Her work in Third Stage was rudely interrupted when she was arrested together with 21 other young professionals and social workers in 1987 under the Internal Security Act (ISA). She was detained without trial for 15 months on the allegation of using theatre to subvert the existing socio-political system in Singapore. She stood unsuccessfully in the 2015 General Election under the Singapore Democratic Party of which she is the chairwoman.

In an exclusive interview with India Se, Wong, spoke about her time as a detainee and the political happenings of the 1980s that are all integral parts of her award-winning book. 

India Se:Your book is a political thriller and you have used incidents such as the December 1986 suicide of the Minister for National Development, Teh Cheang Wan in it, apart from your own detention?

Wong Souk Yee: That incident is the starting point of my novel. It  also inspired me to make up the story that the highest office could have had a hand in the death. Also during that time, MP J B Jeyaretnam had challenged the Government and sought details on the investigation of the Minister Teh.

These are captured in my book, but mine is not a research paper. I do write non-fiction and fiction, but my preference is the latter, being a literature and creative writing student.

India Se: How much resentment or pain did you feel as a young 29- year-old detainee?

Wong Souk Yee: Now I feel nothing, what happened to me is nothing compared to those who were kept in for 20 years. These are the real unsung heroes who got detained for standing on the wrong side of the then PM. So when I see my own detention in the perspective of these heroes, mine was very short, only 15 months. 

At that time I felt angry, and left the country for Australia where I did my post graduation and wrote this book. Right now I am not bitter or angry, but I’ve not forgotten what’s happened to all of us, my friends, to the heroes of the 1980s. 

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