The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew

This is a fictional graphic novel of an underrated artist from Singapore. The work charts the political history of Singapore from the second world war, through independence, and finally, its development as a first world city-state.

I was privileged enough to spend a week in Singapore last month. I really enjoyed my time there for a plethora of reasons. I found it fascinating and enlivening. When I got back, I tried to find some books to learn more about the country.

Since it is a graphic novel and faux memoirs, Sonny Liew uses various styles of comic art to convey history and time. It’s a very meta work. It also incorporates real people in Singapore’s leadership. I learned a lot about Singapore’s history and I’m sure most people would. The achievements of Lee Kuan Yew and PAP to create modern Singapore were not done without bloodshed. They removed and manipulated political opponents and the press. The book makes the reader reflect that while Singapore has changed rapidly in the last fifty years, there is a cost.

I found the book a little sad. I enjoyed the historical aspect and the subversive themes in the book; however, there wasn’t any character that I felt truly invested in. I was not moved by the character of Charlie Chan Hock Chye for some reason.

It’s an ambitious work and will be a classic of Singaporean literature.

Read August 21-22, 2019.

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