Bestselling author and social and political commentator
Catherine Lim is widely regarded as the doyenne of Singapore writers. The prolific novelist and short story writer is also known for her sharp political commentary, her wit and her often irreverent sense of humour.
Born in Malaysia, the eighth out of 14 children, Catherine spent her childhood listening to stories from Chinese folklore and traditions, especially stories about the supernatural, told to her by her mother and grandfather. She first discovered her love of the English language at the Catholic school where she was educated.
Catherine went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a doctorate in Applied Linguistics. She was then awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study in the United States.
Her professional life began as a school teacher. Afterwards Catherine became an administrator in the Curriculum Department of the Ministry of Education and lecturer, before turning to writing, full time, in 1992.
She is known for her popular works of romantic historical fiction, set in the exotic Singapore and Malaysia of days gone by. Often centred on a strong-willed female character, her writing encapsulates the clash between traditional Chinese culture and modernity, women caught between the values of the East and West.
Catherine’s first book Little Ironies: Short Stories of Singapore was an instant bestseller. That, and her second book Or Else, The Lightning God and Other Stories, became literature examination texts for the international GCE O' Level Examinations managed by Cambridge University. Many of her books have been translated for foreign markets.
Over the years Catherine has also cemented her reputation as a frequent critic of Singapore’s government, beginning with her controversial commentary, The PAP and the people – A Great Affective Divide, published in The Straits Times in 1994. Since then, as a self-confessed “strong advocate of political liberalisation in patriarchal and paternalistic Singapore”, Catherine has published numerous more political commentaries.
Catherine calls herself an ardent feminist. Often seen wearing vibrant and striking cheongsams, she was once described by The New York Times as “arguably the most vivid personality in strait-laced Singapore.”
Catherine has numerous international awards, including an Honorary Doctorate in Literature from Australia’s Murdoch University. She is a Knight of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) in France, and an ambassador of the Hans Christian Andersen Foundation in Copenhagen. In 2012 she won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Singaporean website, The Online Citizen.
My advice to my woman friends, whenever our conversation turns to the compelling topic of how to be happy, and how to spend the rest of our lives in the best possible way is usually straightforward: "Be selfish", and for good measure, I add, "Yes, and I mean very selfish."