Laugh and Tough it Out

Book Review – By: Nola Denington

This biography of Sam Underwood is an uplifting story of a man who was able to maintain his dream of helping his fellow man through the practice of medicine, while holding onto his dream for a better Malaysia.  Sam’s upbringing was strict but carefully planned by his father so that Sam was instilled with an ethic of hard work from a small boy.  Because he was also very intelligent, his hard work translated into excellent scholastic results and an ability to learn several languages.

During the Japanese occupation of Malaya, the start of which prevented Sam from completing his Cambridge Entrance Examination, Sam learned from a Japanese officer, the Samurai approach of ‘laughing and toughing it out’; an attitude that helped him greatly in the trials that faced him in the years to come.  The Japanese respected Sam for his self-discipline and hard work and Sam found that he had no problem with the Japanese, who made him one of the top instructors in their training program.  Despite his great success in becoming Malaysia’s first plastic surgeon, Sam had several failures, both in his business and personal life.  He lost large sums of money in business ventures and suffered two failed marriages.

The story follows Sam’s time working for the Japanese, including how he artfully handled the problem of training some senior government servants whom he knew would not easily conform to the Japanese way.  As Bob points out, a psychologist would probably say that Sam was an example of Stockholm Syndrome, where captives of hostages become emotionally and mentally bonded to their captors.  While covering the successes and failures encountered by Sam, the book gives a summary of some of the history of Malaya and how it became the country it is today.   The book is interspersed with funny stories and jokes from a collection that Sam calls on regularly to cheer up his patients and others who enjoy a good joke.

Being the eldest of a family of eight, Sam managed to educate most of his siblings, some of whom became professionals and were successful in both Malaysia and Australia.  He also financed the education of many other young people with whom he came into contact .  He remained in Malaysia because of his determination to help the people of his country and because of his continuing hope that Malaysia’s political system would eventually improve.

The last part of the book describes the various ethnic groups that make up Malaysia and how they came to be present in the country.  Sam tells of the peaceful place he remembers growing up in, with the various ethnic groups living and working together without problems.  After independence in 1957, the new constitution allowed for special privileges to be given to the Malays to allow them to catch up to the more progressive Chinese and Indians.  These rights were extended again and again until all but the Malays are now very disadvantaged. This has also encouraged the development of rampant corruption in a society where bribes are a way of life.

Sam Underwood is now eighty years old and still operates his clinic, giving free consultations and examinations to many of his patients who are very poor.  He retains his optimistic attitude about his country and about life in general and gives the reader a feeling of hope.