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The Heart Radical - Book Review

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Published April 12th 2014
The author of the best-selling Amber Road has produced yet another historical masterpiece

This time, Boyd Anderson has transported us to 1950s Malaya, a time when the country was struggling with a communist insurgency barely after the dust from the Second World War had settled. Amber Road, sometimes regarded as Singapore's own version of Gone with the Wind centred on the events that followed the fall of the Lion City to the Japanese in 1942, while his latest offering, The Heart Radical focuses on the ill-fated romance between a communist guerrilla and a celebrated war heroine in 1950s Perak.

Both books have described the lives of local people during these two different periods in most realistic and vivid terms. Readers could even be forgiven for thinking Anderson to be a professor of Malaysian History, as he has obviously done his homework big-time. After all, Anderson's previous job required him to spend a significant amount of time in Asia.

Historical masterpiece: The Heart Radical brings readers back to the turbulent times of 1950s Malaya, just as Amber Road took us all back to the Japanese-occupied Singapore of 1942.


The Heart Radical draws inspiration from two real-life figures in Malaysian history: war heroine Sybil Karthigasu (sometimes likened to Britain's Edith Cavell) and former Chief Justice Ong Hock Thye (the first Chinese appointed a Supreme Court Judge in Malaysia).

It is best described as part literary fiction and part historical fiction, with a hint of legal thriller. The main story line is narrated by Tan Su Lin, who is eight at the time the main plot takes place. Interspersed into this are the memoirs of war heroine Anna Thumboo and the perspectives of her son, Paris, in the present time. Su Lin is a prominent human-rights lawyer whose father KC Tan successfully defended Anna's lover Toh Kei - a key member of the Communist Party of Malaya - against murder charges at the Ipoh Assizes in 1951, the height of the Emergency as the colonial authorities termed the communist insurgency taking place at that time.

That trial is juxtaposed against one in which Su Lin is involved in that concerns terrorism and what defines it. Along the way, there are also little lessons about Chinese language and culture woven into the narrative. The title itself is a reference to the Chinese character for "heart" being used as part of another word.

This book is for fans of Amy Tan and Adeline Yen-Mah, as well as those who are passionate about Malaysian history and Chinese culture.
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When: Out now
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