Fri | Jun 23, 2017

Book Review - A national's daring struggle for justice

Published:Sunday | April 7, 2013 | 4:00 AM
  • Title: A Matter of Conduct
  • Author: Dalton Yap with Alex Lee
  • Publisher: Sasy Sunflower Books, Ottawa ON, Canada

Dalton Yap tells a rueful tale of dashed ambition, duplicity and the instinctive will to survive, at any cost. A Jamaican national with strong ties to his Chinese roots, Yap paints his own portrait - that of a driven man, almost obsessed with success at the workplace.

A former employee of Jamaica Citizens Bank, Yap is derailed, the fall guy of a cover up involving banking irregularities, negligence, malfeasance and conspiracy to defraud. The plot thickens, and so, too, is the cloud of suspicion, as fingers point to Yap, to the consternation of family and friends. Yap narrates his woes with raw intensity, as he initially wilts under scrutiny and obvious embarrassment. His irascibility, his pain, his withdrawal take a toll on his wife and kids. To garner greater literary impact, Yap uses the first person recollections of his wife and children. The emotional turmoil at home is near palpable. "I was his little star," his daughter reflects, but his predicament caused a frightening uneasiness. "I was only 10 when I met another side of my father ...".

Yap is consumed by rage, but redirects it, standing his ground, determined to fight back. He proves an unyielding fighter, ever willing to confront his adversaries, even at the highest judicial level. But A Matter of Conduct transcends court battles and legal intrigues. Rather, it is an account that spirals down the slippery slope of Social Darwinism. Yap is facing a seemingly insurmountable battle, but he is unswerving, unearthing a resourcefulness that borders on primal, atavistic and self-serving. This is the crux of Conduct. It is an inexorable lesson of the will to survive. "Two years is a long time to wait for your life to return to you," Yap notes.

Amid the incredulity of his situation, Yap inveighs against his tormentors. Surely, they rot of deceit. But Yap is no choir boy either. Asking a friend to risk his career by securing computer data under the shroud of darkness is questionable. Long on his emotional agony, he appears cavalier in potentially leading his friend into dangerous, uncharted waters. Yap states otherwise: "Before this I had never known what it was like to impose on others, but I was now learning that sometimes you need to hold your hand up and ask. You just have to muscle up and fight back." He immediately adds: "I would, on one other occasion, benefit from the information coming from within the bank's walls." Conniving? Then again, a drowning man will grasp at straws.

Yap's narration forms a matrix of interesting plots. On the surface, avarice stares at you, unflinching, as though lifted from that popular TV feature, American Greed. On a subcutaneous level, it is axiomatic, an extolment of the importance of family support in the face of disaster. Despite his prodigious legal team, it is his family that saves him from the depths of despair and emotional irreparability.

For those who have cracked, living a blighted existence, one must ask: "How many could have been saved if others had only lent an ear?" Yap well understands this. Professional counselling at the behest of his sister proves helpful. He is advised to compartmentalise his problems, an approach that eases his insomnia. Of his family, he writes: "The test that brought me to my knees also brought me more knowledge. It armed me with the unshakable certainty that my family will remain intact no matter the obstacle." Admirably, he refers to his siblings as his coaches, his life jackets, and his voice.

Lucid and Loud Message

In many ways, A Matter of Conduct inadvertently raises nagging sociological questions. Indeed, its message is lucid and loud: A wholesome family, privilege and access to resources, unfortunately enjoyed by a minority in every society, are a bulwark against injustice.

Deservedly, Yap triumphs, winning an undisclosed settlement against his former employer, after having his case adjudicated before the Privy Council. The brewing tension, as his fate is decided by the contents of a brown envelope, is well captured. Yap makes full use of cadence and tone in every word. "I shook as I snatched it (the envelope) from him," referring to his lawyer. "My mouth went dry as I pulled out the contents."

Yap has since moved on, obviously bruised and less trusting. Yet, he remains thankful and optimistic in the innate goodness of human nature. "I honour my commitments as I always have, and truly believe that our initial instinct is to do right by one another," he muses, but immediately adds, "now I look more closely into the soul of a person standing before me. I listen more carefully and ask more questions."

A befitting philosophy from a man, duped by human wretchedness, but saved by human kindness.

Rating: Recommended

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