Catherine Lim (simplified Chinese: 林 宝 音 ; pinyin: Lín Bǎoyīn) is a best-selling Singaporean fiction author known for writing
about Singapore society and of themes of traditional Chinese culture. Hailed as the "doyenne of Singapore writers", Lim has published nine collections of short stories, five novels, two poetry collections and numerous political commentaries to date. Her social commentary in 1994, titled The PAP and the people - A Great Affective Divide and published in The Straits Times criticised the ruling political party's agendas.
She was born in the town of Kulim in Malaysia, and studied in the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Malaya in 1963. She immigrated to
Singapore in 1967 at the age of 26, where she continued to work and furthered her post-graduate education in University of Singapore. In 1988, she received her PhD in Applied Linguistics from the National University of Singapore, and attended Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley, in 1990 as a Fulbright Scholar. She had also worked as a teacher, and later, as project director with the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore and a specialist lecturer with the Regional English Language Centre, teaching Socio-Linguistics and Literature. In 1992, she left her professional career to become a full-time writer. Since then, Lim was made a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government in 2003 and as an ambassador of the Hans Christian Andersen Foundation in Copenhagen in 2005. She was also honored with an Honorary Doctorate in Literature from Murdoch University and Southeast Asia Write Award Lim published her first short story collection called Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore (1978), which showed the wit with which Lim is able to portray Singaporean society. A succeeding collection, Or Else, the Lightning God and other Stories, was published in 1980. Another story collection that followed in this tradition was O Singapore: Stories
in Celebration from 1988. Her first novel was published in 1982 and it was entitled The Serpent's Tooth. Other popular books that have been published since then were The Bondmaid (1995) and Following the Wrong God Home (2001). Her major theme in her stories is the role of women in traditional Chinese society and culture. In 1998 Lim was awarded the Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award and in 1999 she received the S.E.A. Write Award. In 2000, she worked with the now-defunct web portal Lycos Asia to pen an e-novella. The effort was called Leap of Love and was sold online (at 19 cents a chapter) before it was published by Horizon Books in 2003. It was released as the film The Leap Years by Singapore's Raintree Pictures in 2008. It is directed by Jean Yeo and stars Wong Li-Lin and Ananda Everingham. Her best-selling novel, The Bondmaid (which sold 75,000 copies) was initially said to be produced as a film by Hong Kong director, Stanley Kwan, of 'Lan Yu' fame, starring Fann Wong. Confirmation of the production eventually waned off.
Career as a writer
Lim is an accomplished and critically acclaimed author who has written more than nine collections of short stories, five novels and a book on poems. She is best known for her collection of short stories Little Ironies: Short Stories of Singapore and Or Else, the Lightning God and Other Stories. Both collections had the distinction of being selected as literature texts for the international GCE O' Level Examinations managed by Cambridge University. Her first publication, Little Ironies: Short Stories of Singapore propelled her into the local literary scene and became an instant best-seller. Her works have since then been published internationally, including in France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and USA. They are also studied as literature text in schools and universities. Upon becoming a full-time writer, Lim gave talks regularly at local and international seminars, conferences, arts/ writers' festivals and even on cruise ships worldwide. She has appeared on radio and television programmes in Singapore, Europe and Australia. Some of her popular discussion topics include The Magic of Storytelling, the
Supernatural in Chinese Culture: Its use in Fiction, and Problems, Perils, Promises: The unique experience of Singapore. She has also written numerous articles and commentaries on contemporary and cultural issues in local and international newspapers. For her literary contribution, Lim was awarded several local and regional book prizes, including the National Book Development Council (NBDCS) awards in 1982, 1988 and 1990. In 1998, she received the Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award followed by the regional Southeast Asian Write Award the next year. She was conferred with an Honorary Doctor of Literature by Murdoch University, Australia and a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture and Information in 2000 and 2003 respectively. In addition, Lim became the first Singaporean author to have an electronic-novella, Love's Lonely Impulses, on the internet hosted by LycosAsia in 2000. More recently, local film producer Raintree Pictures is in the process of adapting two of her works, The Leap of Love and the Bondmaid into movies. Lim has also been appointed Ambassador for the Hans Christen Andersen Foundation,
Copenhagen for 2005.
Quotes from Catherine Lim
"I write because I enjoy it. I write about things that interest me- human behaviors, human relationships, the not-so-pleasant abilities people posses to deceive one another, seek revenge, inflict pain. And their capacity to bear it all as well" "I draw my inspiration and material from life around me; from people I've known".
"I love anything that is human, anything that defines us as human beings with all our flaws, all our struggles, but the thing that I'm most inspired by, the thing that is the whole basis of my spirituality is the conviction that our human spirit will transcend in the end all our little faults and feelings”
Collection of short stories 1978 : Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore. 1980 : Or Else, The Lightning God and Other Stories. 1983 : They Do Return...but Gently Lead Them Back. 1987 : The Shadow of a Shadow of a Dream: Love Stories of Singapore. 1989 : O Singapore! : Stories in Celebration. 1992 : Deadline for Love and Other Stories. 1993 : The Best of Catherine Lim. 1993 : Meet Me on the Queen Elizabeth 2!. 1993 : The Woman's Book of Superlatives. 1999 : The Howling Silence: tales of the dead and their return. 1999 : Women in Bondage: The Stories of Catherine Lim. Novels:
The Serpent's Tooth, Times Books International, Singapore, 1982 The Bondmaid, self-published, 1995 (Orion 1997; foreign edns 1997, 1998) The Teardrop Story Woman, Orion, London, 1998 Following the Wrong God Home, Allen & Unwin, London, 2001 Leap of Love, Horizon Books, Singapore, 2003 (a novella) The Song of Silver Frond, Orion, London, 2003
Love's Lonely Impulses, Heinemann Asia, Singapore, 1992 Humoresque, Horizon Books, Singapore, 2006
Unhurried Thoughts At My Funeral, Horizon Books, Singapore, 2005
Little Ironies: Short Stories of Singapore, Heinemann, 1978.
This is my first book, the one that launched me on the road to authorhood. The 17 short stories are about ordinary men and women living their ordinary lives, often with a determination that is no less than extraordinary—the woman desperate to have a male child to appease her traditionbound husband, the young student who jumps to her death after her poor exam results, the savvy Singlish-speaking taxi driver who makes extra money looking out for male Caucasian tourists to take them to the city’s brothels.
Or Else, the Lightning God and Other Stories, Heinemann, 1980 Encouraged by the warm reception of Little Ironies, I set out to do another collection of short stories. Once again, I present a succession of vignettes of ordinary people one meets with daily in the wet market, the bus stop, the groceries’ store. The last story which provides the title for the collection, reflects an enduring theme in my short stories—the conflict between tradition and modernity, as seen when the uneducated, elderly woman, suddenly finds the temerity to rise against her intimidating English-
educated, career-minded daughter-in-law, calling upon the Lightning God to strike her dead for committing the greatest sin—ill-treating the old. The Serpent’s Tooth: A Novel, Times Books International, 1982
This is my first novel, in which I present the conflicts experienced in a family, against a backdrop of Asian superstitions, myths and legends. The theme is the fearful dereliction that is visited upon the younger generation when the primary Confucianist injunction —’Honour thy father and thy mother through filial piety’—is ignored. The title is taken from Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’, where the old king, after being abandoned by his daughters, curses them and cries out, ‘Sharper than a serpent’s tooth/ It is to have a thankless child!’
They Do Return—Stories of the Supernatural, Times Books International, 1983
These 15 short stories are ghost stories, not the usual supernatural stories of violent hauntings and visitations, but quiet, even mundane tales that examine how people cope with their traditional beliefs about death. The dead seem to have been suddenly transformed into powerful beings who can reach beyond the grave to affect their lives. The result is a conflict of emotions—the fearful realization that those who have died do return, the urgent need to placate them if they are angry and to help them on their journey home if they are lost and still wandering restlessly on the face of the earth. But the ultimately reassuring emotion must be this: that the ties of love and caring will never be severed by death.
The Woman’s Book of Superlatives, Times Books International, 1993
A young girl squirms and hunches, hoping her father will stop gazing at her growing breasts. A wife tightens her arms around her abdomen to protect her unborn baby from the blows of her drunken husband. Is suffering the fate of women? Is their lot simply to endure with equanimity? This is a book where my feminist instincts and emotions are at their strongest. I have taken the liberty of shocking the reader by prefacing each sad story with an excerpt from an ancient myth or legend in which woman is glorified and deified: the contrast between the idealized woman of mythology and the battered woman of reality is surely obscene. I have tried to keep my anger down, and my tone quiet, although I have not resisted the bitter sarcasm of the title. Yes, it’s a woman’s book of superlatives, but only of the superlatives of suffering and endurance.
The Best of Catherine Lim, Heinemann, 1993 The 12 short stories in this collection were selected from my books published over a period of 15 years, up to 1993. They are supposed to represent me at my best, that is, as a keen, clear-eyed, unsentimental observer of the faults, follies and foibles of men and women in their everyday lives, but at the same time, as one capable of showing a true and sympathetic understanding of the essential vulnerability of the human heart. This engagement of both head and heart
gives me an ironic vision, which in turn gives each of my stories a kind of creative tension.
The Howling Silence, Horizon Books, Singapore, 1999 The living and the dead—there is something that binds them. For the living are endlessly fascinated by tales of the dead, whether they are about an ancestor whose ghost reputedly haunts an old ancestral house, or an airline pilot whose ghost is forever condemned to roam the earth with that of his mistress for an unspeakably cruel suicide pact that plunges a hundred others to their deaths. The dead too appear to be fascinated by the living. They want to come back to reassure, console, seek revenge, and seek forgiveness or simply to connect across an immense gulf of darkness and mystery. Death may bring silence but it is a howling silence with the urgent needs, hopes, desires and torments on both sides.
Unhurried Thoughts at My Funeral, Horizon Books, Singapore, 2005 This book is part autobiography, part fiction and part polemics. I portray myself as dead and lying in my coffin. During the three days before the final consignment to dust and oblivion, as friends, relatives, ex-colleagues, fans, lovers and total strangers come to pay their respects, I indulge, for the last time, my love of story-telling, weaving a dazzling, dizzying tale around each visitor. But the tales are more than just that. They are the triggering points for the central concern of this book—the exploration of those achingly urgent human questions that everyone asks at some time or other: Who are we? Where did we come from? What is the purpose of life? What happens after death?
The Bondmaid, Catherine Lim Publishing, UK, USA, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Israel, Greece, Italy, Spain, Iceland, 1995 This is my first internationally published novel. Set in Singapore in the early 1950s, The Bondmaid captures the special ethos of a wealthy and powerful Chinese household in that bygone era. A little girl, Han, is sold as a bondmaid into the House of Wu, where she grows up with the young heir. But the idyll of childhood attachment quickly turns into a nightmare of thwarted sexual passion, as Han, beautiful, proud and uncompromisingly loyal, defies the forces of tradition and tyranny in a household where patriarchs and matriarchs wield inexorable power, lustful male relatives watch young bondmaids to claim their rightful share of pleasure and gods and goddesses smile to see the human drama unfold. The Bondmaid chronicles the strength of one woman’s love— right to its terrifying climax.