Lim, Catherine 1942(?)-

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LIM, Catherine 1942(?)-

PERSONAL: Born March 23, 1942 (some sources say 1943), in Kedah, Malaysia; immigrated to Singapore, 1970; married, 1964 (divorced, 1980); children: one daughter, one son. Education: University of Malaysia, B.A. (honors) in English, 1963; National University of Singapore, M.A. in applied linguistics, 1979, Ph.D., 1987.

ADDRESSES: Home—18 Leedon Heights, #07-05, Farrer Rd., Singapore 1026.

CAREER: Education officer, 1965-78; Institute of Singapore, Singapore, deputy director of curriculum development, 1979-85; Seameo Regional Centre, Singapore, lecturer in sociolinguistics, 1989-90; writer of English instructional texts.



Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore, Heinemann Educational Books (Singapore), 1978.

Or Else, the Lightning God and Other Stories, Heinemann Educational Books (Singapore), 1980.

They Do Return, Times Books International (Singapore), 1983.

Three Gifts from the Green Dragon and Other Stories from Chinese Literature (juvenile), Target (Klerksdorp, South Africa), 1986.

The Shadow of a Shadow of a Dream: Love Stories of Singapore, Times Books International (Singapore), 1987.

O Singapore!: Stories in Celebration, Times Books International (Singapore), 1989.

Deadline for Love and Other Stories, Heinemann Asia (Singapore), 1992.

The Woman's Book of Superlatives, Times Books International (Singapore), 1993.

The Best of Catherine Lim, Heinemann Asia (Singapore), 1993.

The Howling Silence: Tales of the Dead and Their Return, Horizon Books (Singapore), 1999.


The Serpent's Tooth, Times Books International (Singapore), 1982.

The Bondmaid, Catherine Lim Publications, 1995, Overlook Press (New York, NY), 1997.

The Teardrop Story Woman, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 1998.

Following the Wrong God Home, Orion (London, England), 2001.

A Leap of Love: A Novella, Horizon Books (Singapore), 2003.


Love's Lonely Impulses, Heinemann Asia (Singapore), 1992.

Contributor to books, including Asian Voices in English, edited by Mimi Chan and Roy Harris, Hong Kong University Press, 1991; and Perceiving Other Worlds, edited by Edwin Thumboo, Times Academic Press (Singapore), 1991.

SIDELIGHTS: Catherine Lim is a highly regarded author in her adopted home of Singapore and is also a literary presence in the United States. In ContemporaryNovelists, Susan Ang wrote that "Lim's main themes are the clashes between generations and cultures, the disparity of attitudes and lifestyles found amongst the various income-groups, and the discrepancy between society's ever-improving economic profile and its state of moral poverty." Lim's short story "Father and Son," from Or Else, the Lightning God and Other Stories, illustrates these clashes. In "Father and Son," a man alienates and disowns his once-treasured son. Lim also addresses family ties in Three Gifts from the Green Dragon and Other Stories from Chinese Literature, a short-story collection intended for children which features Lim's adaptations of traditional Chinese folktales. The stories include the tale of Han Zi and his father and grandfather and another about Yue Guo and his lazy brother. Other stories address economic, class, and gender issues. A reviewer for Books for Keeps praised Three Gifts from the Dragon, calling it "delightfully compact," suitable "for teaching purposes or simple sheer enjoyment."

Lim's style, as evidenced in Little Ironies, is considered deceptively simple, as it describes commonplace occurrences in an understandable manner. World Literature Today contributor John Kwan-Terry remarked that "although lacking in subtlety, [the language in Little Ironies] avoids pretentiousness and annoying flourishes and sounds very much like someone actually recounting an interesting anecdote."

Lim is also the author of the novels The Serpent's Tooth and The Bondmaid. The Serpent's Tooth centers on an extended Chinese family in Singapore, particularly the protagonist, Angela, and her mother-in-law. Angela exemplifies the modern, English-speaking Singapore resident with material aims, while her mother-in-law lives the traditional Chinese way of life by maintaining reverence for ancestors and ancient rituals. Lim portrays each extreme as flawed in its own way. As a Contemporary Novelists writer noted, in The Serpent's Tooth, "what emerges . . . is a sketch of a culture/society comprising morally indifferent and solipsistic individuals. Neither set of values (modern or traditional) is seen as being above reproach."

The Bondmaid tells the story of Han, a little girl who is sold into slavery in 1950s-era Singapore. As she grows to maturity, Han falls in love with her master, a young man with whom she has grown up. Despite her strong will and determination, Han faces bitterness and betrayal as she seeks to fulfill her love. Lim self-published The Bondmaid rather than edit some of the sexual and political content in the story, and when the book was finally released by a mainstream publisher, it became a bestseller. Margaret Flanagan in Booklist called the work "a heartrending tale of love, exploitation, and betrayal." A Publishers Weekly reviewer described it as a "dramatic love story" in which Lim "creates a rich picture of Singaporean life behind the scenes."

Set in 1950s-era Malaysia, The Teardrop Story Woman features another ill-fated woman, Mei Kwei, who because of her gender, is rejected by her father and ignored by her mother. Mei Kwei takes solace in her clandestine observations of English lessons at the local Catholic school. As she grows into a beautiful woman despite a disfiguring birthmark, she falls in love with a young French priest who has come to her village. An arranged marriage notwithstanding, Mei Kwei gravitates to the priest because only he sees her as more than a mere possession. Rocky Mountain News contributor Joan Hinkemeyer noted that in The Teardrop Story Woman Lim "knows her territory and subtly but deftly sketches in the rich variety of human players." The reviewer added: "Lim's spare, controlled prose is . . . rich in evocative physical details and timeless human insight." In an Eclectica, Ann Skea concluded that Lim provides "vivid insight into lives lived according to Asian traditions and beliefs. Catherine Lim is a good storyteller, she draws the reader into unfamiliar worlds and provides enough tantalizing and unusual situations in her characters' lives to keep you reading to the end."

Following the Wrong God Home brings up to date Lim's views of Singaporean society. Engaged to the wealthy but self-centered Vincent Chee, intelligent Yin Ling enters a passionate love affair with an American scholar at the national university. Duty calls, however, and Yin Ling goes through with her marriage, only to suffer terribly when her feelings for the American are later rekindled. Calling Lim "Singapore's literary saviour," Lancet contributor Robin Gerster added that the author's works "reveal the dramas simmering beneath Singapore's ordered surface." Gerster went on to describe Following the Wrong God Home as "an impressive achievement, an intelligently conceived and executed exposure of the relationships between the lawful and the illicit, moral imperatives and social injustice, fake worship and true allegiance."

The Feminist Companion to Literature in English quoted an assertion by Asiaweek that Lim is "the best writer in Singapore." Writing in World Literature Today, Charles R. Larson remarked that Lim's work is as well-crafted and instructive, as her stories "are haunting tales of a part of the world most of us have only seen obliquely." Lim told an Angelfire interviewer that her writings are based on childhood memories and on stories she has been told by others, rather than on written research. "If it needs to be copied onto paper, it probably isn't powerful enough, but if I remember it, it must have that strength, that colour." She added: "Memory to me is the best storehouse for everything."



Blain, Virginia, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy, The Feminist Companion to Literature in English: Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1990.

Brown, Susan Windisch, editor, Contemporary Novelists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Buck, Claire, editor, The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature, Prentice Hall General Reference (New York, NY), 1992.

Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.

Lim, Yi-En, Women in Bondage: The Stories of Catherine Lim, Times Books International (Singapore), 1999.


Booklist, October 15, 1997, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Bondmaid, p. 388; October 15, 1998, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Teardrop Story Woman, p. 404.

Books for Keeps, January, 1986, p. 15.

Independent (London, England), August 9, 1997, Justin Wintle, "House of the Spirits," p. 6.

Lancet, April 20, 2002, Robin Gerster, "Singapore Fling," p. 1443.

Library Journal, July, 1997, Judith Kicinski, review of The Bondmaid, p. 126.

New York Times Book Review, February 8, 1998, Kimberly B. Marlowe, review of The Bondmaid, p. 18.

Publishers Weekly, August 18, 1997, review of The Bondmaid, p. 66; September 22, 1997, Paul Nathan, "Thwarting Censorship," p. 25; October 5, 1998, review of The Teardrop Story Woman, p. 79.

Rocky Mountain News, December 27, 1998, Joan Hinkemeyer, "Maylay Girl Finds Life of Her Own," p. 2E.

Sunday Times (London, England), March 11, 2001, Elizabeth Buchan, review of Following the Wrong God Home, p. 45.

World Literature Today, winter, 1980, p. 173; summer, 1982, p. 477; summer, 1998, Kathleen Flanagan, review of The Bondmaid, p. 691.


Angelfire, (March 25, 2003), Kate Mayberry, interview with Lim.

Eclectica, (March 25, 2003), Ann Skea, reviews of The Teardrop Story Woman and The Bondmaid.

National University of Singapore, (March 25, 2003), comprehensive material on Lim and her work.*