Options: What are the main distinguishing factors between Volumes One and Two?
Kee Thuan Chye: Volume One deals with [Tan Sri Lim] Kit Siang’s younger days. It contains revelations about him that people didn’t know. It ends on a cliffhanger.
Volume Two: Bold to the Last Battle (launched on Oct 29 at The Wembley, Penang) picks up from there and goes on to the present. It covers a longer period and includes events that are closer to most people’s memory and perhaps more easily relatable — from Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sacking [as deputy prime minister on Sept 2, 1998] and sodomy charges to Bersih and Hindraf [the first gathering of both took place in November 2007], the murder of [Mongolian model] Altantuya Shaariibuu, Pakatan Harapan’s 2018 victory and the ‘Sheraton Move’ [in February 2020]. There’s plenty more drama and intrigue in this volume. And heart-tugging moments as well.
Did you come across any surprising revelations about Kit Siang while writing?
The announcement of his retirement from competitive politics in March 2022 shocked me. It came only four days after an interview I had had with him for the book, at which he affirmed to me that he would be contesting a seat in the DAP’s upcoming party elections. His sudden decision to withdraw from the race and retire prompted me to probe why it came about. After talking to numerous party insiders, I proceeded to reveal in the book the circumstances that led to Kit’s surprise decision. Readers might be interested to find out why he suddenly chose to step down.
What is the most difficult aspect of writing a biography?
Getting at the truth about events and actions, and the motivations behind the latter. It calls for talking to different sources to cross-check and seek verification. It also calls for tedious research, and again checking and cross-checking facts. With human sources, however, a potential stumbling block is the elusiveness of memory. Dealing with that, a biographer has to proceed with care and circumspection. Even so, making the right judgement on what is credible can prove to be one of the more interesting challenges for him/her.
What about Kit Siang and his long political career do you wish more Malaysians knew?
His sacrifices and sufferings as a long-time Opposition politician for which he has asked nothing in return. Above all, his consistency in his dogged pursuit of his ‘Malaysian Dream’ for a nation that is united, democratic and prosperous and in which all its citizens have the opportunity to achieve success and find fulfilment, regardless of who they are. His desire to see it realised has burned in him since his secondary school days. As such, all those who have branded him an enemy of the people, called him anti-Malay, anti-Muslim and anti-royalty are those who either have malignant motives or are fearful of his constructive ideas for nation-building.
Are there any other Malaysians you would consider writing a biography on, or for?
Just the other day, a dear friend mentioned that the late former Penang chief minister [Tun Dr] Lim Chong Eu deserved a biography. I was surprised none has been written yet because Chong Eu led a very interesting life. But would I consider doing it? At this stage, no. It would require a lot of research and legwork, and fundraising for the project. I’ve just gone through four years of that and I’m not about to set off on another massive journey which could take years to complete. Not for now. But I’m putting this out for other biographers to consider.
How do you feel now that you have wrapped up four years of hard work?
I feel very proud and fulfilled. I’ve worked very hard on both volumes since the project started in 2019. The actual writing of this one alone took 14 months, working every day. But I loved the process even though I sometimes agonised over it. It has also been a pleasurable experience interviewing more than 70 people for their insights on Kit Siang.
As for the man himself, I interviewed him more than a dozen times during which we shared a lot of laughter and I made a friend. He has a great sense of humour. I must also say he never tried to influence the writing of the biography, never even asked how it was going. And this is not just because the project is an independent one. He was ever respectful of my freedom to write as I saw fit, regardless. That is the measure of the man.
Are you working on anything else now? What’s next?
In a sense, I’m jobless now! But after four years of hard work, I’m glad to have my life back. So I’ll chill for a while. I’m thinking of writing a play. But that’s not going to be economically sustainable, so at some point, I’ll have to look for something to help me cari makan.
Purchase a copy of 'Malaysian First Volume Two: Bold to The Last Battle' at Gerakbudaya for RM88 here.
This article first appeared on Oct 30, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.