Madonnas and Mavericks, published last year, is the second book by Loretta Chen that I’ve read. It is a tribute to outstanding women who have scaled the peaks and thrived in unexpected places. The 17 women in this book are leaders from diverse fields: for example, business (Odile Benjamin, Cynthia Chua, Jannie Chua, Tjin Lee, Olivia Lum, Nichol Ng, Jamie Wong), politics (Chan Heng Chee, Sylvia Lim, Halimah Yacob), advocacy (Geh Min, Fanny Lai, Ivy Singh-Lim,) sports (Theresa Goh) and the arts (Janice Koh, Siow Lee Chin, Xiang Yun). They share their childhood struggles, challenges, personal tragedies and victories in honest interviews.
A madonna is a steadfast and virtuous woman; disciplined professional with specialised mastery that has taken her many years to hone and cultivate. A maverick is a character born out of today’s fast-paced environment – a game-changer and a dynamic individual, who revels in taking the bull by its horns and seeking new adventures.
This book, with personal world views of these women with their distinct life philosophies and their own style of authentic leadership, is unique and informative. It is inspiring to read about Odile Benjamin overcoming breast cancer, the surgery and chemotherapy, and living with lupus and in constant pain, showing how it takes only a second for a life to turn around for the better or for worse.
Halimah Yacob has come a long way to become Singapore’s first woman president. This book reveals that she studied in Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, and I’ve always thought that her Alma Mater is Tanjong Katong Girls’ School (because of a newspaper article).
I better understand why Ivy Singh-Lim is such a colourful warrior, how her first marriage ended in divorce and how rich she really is. I found out Janice Wong’s comfort food is Tiramisu, which I love. I’ve always known that Xiang Yun is Loretta Chen’s sister-in-law and about twenty years ago, I’d heard gossips that there was a third party in Xiang Yun and Edmund Chen’s marriage but I did not realise it made Xiang Yun live in fear that her marriage would end up in divorce.
One thing that many of these women have in common is their love for arts and music: Chan Heng Chee wanted to be a writer and loves music (classical, opera, pop, folk, jazz) and wanted to learn to play the piano but her grandmother said no. Geh Min and Halimah Yacob love reading. Janice Koh was Loretta’s senior (by two years) at the National University of Singapore (Theatre Studies), an Ambassador for Pink Dot Campaign (so is Theresa Goh) and the person who first suggested the Mentor Access Project by the National Arts Council. Fanny Lai is a culture vulture for art museums and art books and draws cartoons all the time, although I’ve read only one of her books. (Olivia Lum also loves paintings.) Though I’ve always known that Tjin Lee is Min (the violinist) Lee’s sister, I didn’t know she invested in the Wolfgang Music Studio too. Even though I’ve read and been moved by Siow Lee Chin’s memoir From Clementi to Carnegie, I was still brought to tears when I read the passage about her playing the violin for her father in hospital.
This has been an enjoyable read. It is inspiring too. I shall now look for another book by Loretta Chen.