Thursday, September 09, 2004

Book Review: Thinking Allowed?


In reading Warren Fernandez's latest book, Thinking Allowed?, a reader has to keep in mind the wisdom of Salman Rushdie: "A book is a version of the world. If you do not like it, ignore it; or offer your own version in return."

At the end of 252 pages, the reader must appreciate that, like most books, what the author offers is a perspective; a perspective born out of spending a good part of his life in the Singapore he calls home; particularly his time as a journalist of The Straits Times (ST).

As the author rightly admits in his introduction, his essays are not academic theses. Thinking Allowed? is essentially an attempt to complement nine informally-written and brief essays, covering various aspects of the Singapore psyche, with 27 articles previously published in ST.

The reader should, thus, avoid falling into the trap of comparing this book to seminal commentaries such as Tim Huxley's Defending the Lion City: The Armed Forces of Singapore or Cherian George's The Air-Conditioned Nation.

Instead, the reader is encouraged to think about the themes or issues that are raised in the essays and articles.

A key advantage of Thinking Allowed? lies in the fact that the reader need not necessarily start from Page 1 of the book and end at Page 252.

One can read Thinking Allowed? in four ways:
1. Just read the nine essays;
2. Simply read the 27 articles;
3. Spend some time and read all nine essays and 27 articles; or
4. Be more choosy and randomly read the essays or articles that appeal.

Therefore, some thinking is allowed in how readers approach this book.

As a first read about the prevailing socio-political climate in Singapore, a reader may well find Thinking Allowed? refreshing, if not alternative. But it is also possible that the reader may come away with the impression that the author's perspective, albeit independent, is heavily influenced by the editorial slant of ST.

The many accolades on the book cover by present representatives of ST perhaps enhance the impression. As such, a reader of ST may well find the ground covered in Thinking Allowed? familiar territory.

One can therefore expect the thoughts on "politics, fear and change in Singapore" contained in Thinking Allowed? to play a constructive role in nation-building.

The author leaves no doubt about this when he writes: "This book is my humble attempt to help further the process of engaging Singaporeans in thinking about our collective future."

Nevertheless, a seasoned reader of the socio-political climate in Singapore will find Thinking Allowed? interesting in that it offers an "insider" perspective. This is to be expected since the author has been heavily involved in many public service committees and projects.

Thinking Allowed? is Warren Fernandez's version of Singapore. If, as a reader, you do not like it, ignore it. Alternatively, you can choose to be engaged and offer your own version in return.

After all, thinking is allowed, right?

Dharmendra Yadav

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