Kwong Weng’s debut memoir recounts a life of remarkable persistence.
Born in Toa Payoh in Central Singapore, Kwong Weng enjoyed a happy if modest upbringing. Failing to win a spot in a teacher’s program at the National University of Singapore, he joined the army, convinced of his academic inferiority. He was assigned to the Singapore Police Force, but he longed to become a commando and successfully petitioned his way into the training program. He advanced steadily through the ranks from second lieutenant to Ranger instructor. He was offered an opportunity to train with the U.S. Navy SEALs in San Diego, a notoriously grueling process. Midway through the training schedule, a car accident left him in a coma with a punctured lung and broken collarbone. He eventually recovered and was able to complete his certification, which the author describes as more a psychological than physical challenge involving the delicate negotiation of one’s expectations. Kwong Weng left the military at 35 to pursue work in the private sector—he became an intelligence analyst at a think tank—and despite his earlier academic floundering, earned a Ph.D. in security studies and crisis management at Glasgow University. Kwong Weng ended up working in Myanmar, and one of the highlights of this remembrance is his trenchant commentary on that small nation’s emergence from years of tyranny. It’s simply impossible not to be inspired by Kwong Weng’s life. He repeatedly overcame difficulties and was naturally optimistic when confronted by failure. The prose is simple, unadorned, and clear. The narrative meanders a bit here and there, especially when he discusses his family—an experienced editor would have trimmed some superfluous detail. Also, some challenges—like his failed marriage—are glossed. The principal difficulty of the book, though, is no coherent thread pulls it all together, despite his insistence that he reflects back on his life for the sake of inferring usable lessons. At one point, he offers the strangest advice one could find in a retrospective memoir: “Don’t bother looking back to get answers; it’s better to focus on the present.” This is an uplifting tale, but the author’s meditations on it are muddled.
An inspiring story that needs a unifying theme.