I, KKK: A nation’s journey told through the life of historian Khoo Kay Kim

By Syed Jaymal Zahiid

KUALA LUMPUR, April 12 ― Historians and autobiographies do not usually go along well.

It can be said that for most of them, an autobiography is the least objective and empirical method to analyse history. Memories, a key component to biographies, are sentimental; but facts are not.

As a result, national historian Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim, who just turned 80 two weeks ago, admitted he had issues with documenting and writing about his own personal journey as a man, husband and an intellectual, an idea that originally came from his wife Rathi.

“Truth be told, autobiographical reflection goes against all the cultivated instincts of the trained historian,” Khoo said today, confessing.

Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah (left) launched Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim’s (right) book ‘I, KKK: The Autobiography of a Historian’ in Kuala Lumpur April 12, 2017.

But he caved in. And the result was I, KKK: The Autobiography of a Historian, a 140-page book documenting the very personal life of a man whom most people likely know only from some of the controversial assertion he made about Malaysian history.

One of the most memorable ones would have been about how the British had, according to Khoo, never really colonised Malaya.

But Khoo has no plan to address the controversy now. At least not in this book, which was launched by Perak ruler Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah today.

National historian Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim speaks during the launch of his book in Kuala Lumpur April 12, 2017.

Instead, the book offers readers an opportunity to know Khoo better ― a regular Malayan, saddled with aspirations and hopes at a time when the country was still in its infancy, clasping and trying hard to carve out its own destiny.

Often viewed as the “boring” history professor, who would have known that Khoo was a keen footballer? Or that he was a wild party boy during his university days with a penchant for the rumba?

But as personal as the biography may be, it is also much a documentation of the nation's history told through the prism of an individual, as put by Sultan Nazrin in his royal address at the book’s launch.

Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim’s book ‘I, KKK: The Autobiography of a Historian’.

And for the Perak ruler, the release of an autobiography of a historian that contributed much to the shaping of Malaysia could not have been more timely as the country turns 60 years old soon.

“As we reach six decades of our life as a nation, it is important to recall what has been forgotten, and to embrace the voices of all those who have shaped our national narrative, particularly when it is related directly by them,” his royal highness said.

The book, priced at RM50, will be carried by most major bookstores nationwide.