Malaysian tycoon Robert Kuok's memoir is Book of the Year at Singapore Book Awards

Robert Kuok: A Memoir was expected to sell 4,000 copies, but sold 10 times that in just four months and has spent 33 weeks on The Straits Times bestseller list for non-fiction.
Robert Kuok: A Memoir was expected to sell 4,000 copies, but sold 10 times that in just four months and has spent 33 weeks on The Straits Times bestseller list for non-fiction.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SINGAPORE - Malaysian tycoon Robert Kuok's memoir capped off a year as a sleeper bestseller by triumphing at the Singapore Book Awards on Friday (Sept 21).

Robert Kuok: A Memoir, in which the notoriously media-shy 94-year-old opens up to American journalist Andrew Tanzer about his life, won Book of the Year at the annual industry awards by the Singapore Book Publishers Association, which recognise the best in local book publishing.

Seven titles scored wins at The Arts House gala event, which also marked the association's 50th anniversary. Mr Baey Yam Keng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Culture, Community and Youth, was the guest of honour.

The winning titles were chosen from 31 shortlisted books in seven categories: Best Children's Picture Book, Best Middle Grade/Young Adult Title, Best Fiction Title, Best Non-Fiction Title, Best Education Title, Best Book Cover Design and Best Illustrated Non-Fiction Title.

Robert Kuok: A Memoir was expected to sell 4,000 copies, but sold 10 times that in just four months and has spent 33 weeks on The Straits Times bestseller list for non-fiction.

The other contenders for Book of the Year were the winning titles in six of the seven categories (excluding Best Book Cover Design), The Story of LKY, Mr Kiasu: Everything Also Like Real and Detective Conan by Shogakukan Asia.

Judge Michelle Martin, a radio host on Money FM 89.3, called it "an extraordinary book about a legendary man who rose from a broken home to incredible material success".

"The depth and breadth of his unique perspective of life and his reasons for being and acting in the world are captured beautifully in this book, which transfixes from the first line."

Mr Kuok's publisher Landmark Books also scored another win with Stranger To Myself by Md Sharif Uddin, believed to be the first Bangladeshi construction worker to publish a memoir in English about his experience working in Singapore.

The book, which he wrote to show Singaporeans a different side to migrant workers, won Best Non-Fiction Title.

Publisher Goh Eck Kheng, 63, who helms Landmark, said of the two awards: "I feel very moved that the books we produce come from two extremes of a spectrum - from the Crazy Rich Asians, so to speak, to the people just trying to make ends meet for their families."

Fantasy novel The Gatekeeper by Nuraliah Norasid won both Best Fiction Title and Best Book Cover Design. The debut novel won the $25,000 Epigram Books Fiction Prize in 2016.

Epigram Books also received Best Middle Grade/Young Adult Title for its illustrated handbook bundle Understanding Singaporeans, while Best Children's Picture Book went to The First Journey by Vietnamese duo Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien, which was published in Singapore in English after winning the 2015 Scholastic Picture Book Award.

Best Illustrated Non-Fiction Title went to Tomas Saraceno: Arachnid Orchestra. Jam Sessions, a multimedia art publication by NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, based on Argentinian artist Saraceno's exhibition on spiders and sound.

Straits Times Press received Best Education Title for the workbook Mastering English With The Straits Times: The Secondary Edition, which helps students prepare for the O-level English examination. The workbook was developed by The Straits Times Schools team, which is behind the award-winning Little Red Dot and IN student publications. The title has sold more than 10,000 copies and is going for a third reprint.

Ms Debra Ann Francisco, the project's coordinator for the series, 42, said: "It's a great validation for the ST Schools team and the educational content and programmes we develop for primary pupils and secondary school students."

Ms Susan Long, general manager, Straits Times Press, said: 'We are so honoured our foray into educational titles has met with success. This book pretty much encapsulates the mandate of Straits Times Press - to improve literacy, increase awareness of current affairs and engage with the young."

The association's president Peter Schoppert said: "Over the last few years we've really seen Singapore publishers stepping up their game... I'm very heartened that we have so many excellent entries to the awards from such a cross-section of players. Books are making a difference."

This is the fourth edition of the awards, which were first held in 2012 and returned in 2016 after a hiatus.

To qualify, books must be published in one of Singapore's four official languages between Jan 1 and Dec 1 last year. They must have a Singapore International Standard Book Number, a unique number that identifies each edition of a book, with hard copies legally deposited with the National Library Board. Books sold in print must be sold in retail stores locally and/or overseas.

A total of 33 titles were shortlisted this year. Winners, who were chosen by a panel of judges comprising writers, educators, bookstore directors and other industry insiders, received a plaque and a certificate of recognition.