Verisimilitude and (The Act of) Reading
by Yiru Lim
Source: The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, p. 307. Copyright © 2015 by Sonny Liew. Published in Singapore by Epigram Books http://www.epigrambooks.sg
Singapore’s official version of history is primarily enshrined in the memoirs of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first Prime Minister. Titled The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew, the memoirs were originally published in two volumes in 1998 and 2000 and a memorial edition was released by Marshall Cavendish in 2015, the year of Mr Lee’s passing. Revisionist accounts that stand in opposition to this seminal publication attempt to fill what they see as a void in Singapore’s history: the voice of the opposition, especially in the narratives concerning nation building and independence. They exist in a myriad of forms and genres—film, scholarly publications, prose, poetry—and they seek to debunk existing narratives and proffer more balanced perspectives of history.
Some recent examples include academic publications like Comet in Our Sky (2015), that speaks of the alleged communist Lim Chin Siong and his role in securing Singapore’s independence; Tan Pin Pin’s documentary film To Singapore, With Love (2013); Jeremy Tiang’s State of Emergency: A Novel (2017); and Sonny Liew’s graphic novel The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (2015). Tan’s film has been banned from being screened in Singapore while the latter two have had their grants revoked by the National Arts Council of Singapore (NAC) (Ho, 2017, Today Online 2015 & 2014). Although Liew’s graphic novel did not receive government approval, it has taken the literary world by storm. It became the first graphic novel to win the Singapore Literature Prize in 2016 and has garnered Liew six Eisner nominations and three Eisner Awards this year (Martin, 2017).