About the Author


‘(Suchen Christine Lim’s fiction) presents different modes of narration and then breaks the imperatives of these modes, providing new perspectives, moving away from the linear to the spiral, calling like sculpture for three-dimensional perception.’

~  Peter NAZARETH, University of Iowa
Review of Fistful of Colours in World Literature Today,
Autumn 1993, p. 905-906


‘Distinctive in the novels of Suchen Christine Lim within the growing body of Singaporean fiction in English is their conflation of history and fiction. It is important, therefore, to approach today’s Southeast Asian fiction afresh, especially when considering what it is that Lim’s fiction is actually saying… about identities created, re-created, and rejected within Singapore’s post-colonial context.’

~  Laurel MEANS
Conference on Meaning as Production: The Role of the Unwritten
National University of Singapore, September, 1995


‘She believes that ‘the novelist must be willing to live through the loneliness of the long distance runner if she cares about both form and substance’ and that ‘writing a novel part time while holding down a full time job and looking after a family makes it doubly difficult for many women writers.’  However she is ‘not happy with just telling the story,’ but is concerned about how the tale is told and in whose voice.  Indeed she has continued to experiment with different narrative voices from her earliest works to her fourth novel, A Bit Of Earth.  Published in 2000, this latest novel subverts colonial stereotypes and shows the friendship between a Malay chief and a Chinese refugee who questioned British colonial practices.’

~  Amy LAI, Hong Kong Polytechnic University
in The Literary Encyclopedia, 23 June 2003


About the Books


‘In Fistful of Colours…the relative powerlessness of the individual against the impersonal, crushing forces of power (as manifested in party politics or the larger overriding forces of history) emerges through narratives of state and correspondingly, narrative exposures of the drastic consequences when the state or party is challenged or interrogated. …Both the multiple narratives and the narratives within narratives provide structural means for embedding the linked (and then ‘delinked’) history and politics of Singapore and Malaya/Malaysia in Fistful of Colours. From the contemporaneous to the past, Lim delineates the entanglements of ordinary lives with the historical and political life of their countries.’

~  LEONG Liew Geok
Dissenting Voices: Political Engagements In The Singaporean Novels In English, in World Literature Today
Vol. 74 No. 2, Spring 2000


Fistful Of Colours is a complex reworking of Suchen Christine Lim’s previous novel, Gift From The Gods (see WLT 65:4 p. 775). …the blurb says ‘the novel traces the destinies of three strong women.’ …Like Yenti in the previous work, Suwen is of Chinese origin, with no knowledge of her father and with a mother who, fleeing from class exploitation…but now having money, lays claim like officials of the government, to the high culture of ancient China. Suwen wants to get at the truth, for which ‘I’m exploring the idea of marrying two mediums – the word and the picture – to make art.’ …Like Llyod Fernando’s Scorpion Orchid (1976) Fistful Of Colours is played against Conrad. Nica tells Mark (Campbell) ‘Little English clerks came out here, and suddenly their status and class were raised. They became and acted like lords among us.’ Suwen joins Nica in teasing mark that he’s going to pieces ‘like one of Conrad’s characters.’ More subtly, as in Lord Jim, the novel presents different modes of narration and then breaks the imperatives of these modes, providing new perspectives, moving away from the linear to the spiral, calling like sculpture for three-dimensional perception. Providing the unwritten story, the novel breaks out of the traps of written texts, even the ones it provides. Like Fernando, Lim is re-creating the Singapore identity out of a heterogeneous people yoked together by the demands and histories of various exploiters. Can Suwen finally transform her story? Will she embrace Mark and create a truly multinational Singapore?  It should be no surprise that Fistful Of Colours was awarded the 1992 Singapore Literature Prize.’

~  Peter NAZARETH, University of Iowa
Review of Fistful of Colours in World Literature Today,
Autumn 1993, p. 905-906


‘In A Fistful of Colours, her third novel, Suchen Christine Lim hits her stride as a matured novelist, weaving multiple stories of multi-generations of multi-ethnic Singaporeans. In tracing Suwen’s path to identity as woman and artist, Lim touches on broader issues as well – ethnic identity in contemporary Singapore, the relationship between art and history, and the pursuit of personal and artistic freedom. Through the eyes of the younger generation of Suwen’s friends and fellow artists, we also get the history of the nation builders – the Chinese coolie, the Malay waiter, the Indian doctor.

Beyond the stories of people and places, however, it seems that the unseen major character is History itself. Lim has always had a sensitivity for time and place, and in A Fistful of Colours, she brings her artist’s eye and deft hand, working in broad and detailed strokes, to animate both. If I could recommend just one novel to introduce Singapore literature to the uninitiated, this is the one!!’

~  Ronald D KLEIN, Hiroshima Jogakuin University


‘In the history of Singapore fiction in English, few novels have truly attempted to explore the complex plights faced by women as they struggle torealise their own self-fulfilment. Fistful Of Colours is one such novel. If I have to use two words to define the achievement of Fistful Of Colours I would use ‘gentle honesty’, for here is a novel which not only explores the suffering that men and women go through, but tempers the exploration with humanity.’

~  Kirpal SINGH, Singapore Management University


A Bit of Earth is written in simple, supple and controlled diction, enriched with a spatter of sparkling imagery… Lim’s clever fusion of fiction and history (the list of references at the end shows how much of research has gone into the writing of the book) also gives the novel the distinctive quality of ‘imaginative history.’ Much of the novel’s strength lies in its sturdy realism. Although dealing with a critical phase of history, Lim shows no undue sentimentalism in her narrative. She does not overdo in her criticisms of the British, nor does she lose her subtle humour in her swipe at the patriarchy. It is true that in writing her post-colonial novel Lim registers her protest against imperial injustice and other forms of oppression in society, but her catharsis is earned not at the expense of her artistry; therefore polemical, A Bit of Earth is still an imaginatively rich and aesthetically accomplished novel.’

~  Mohammad A. Quayum
A Two Headed Demon (Review of A Bit of Earth) in Singaporean Literature in English: A Critical Reader, Mohammad A. Quayam and Peter Wicks (Eds.), 2002


A Bit Of Earth begins with a unicultural and tribal world, which, as the novel progresses, becomes multicultural. The protagonist is Wong Tuck Heng who leaves his village of Sum Hor in the Canton Prefecture of Kwantung Province in 1874, after his father was tortured by the Manchu rulers, and makes his way to Malaya where he begins working in the tin mines. …The question raised by the immigrant presence is relationship to the land. Are people to be defined by this relationship? As Pak Musa (a Malay-Muslim trader) is dying, ‘The earth was calling out to him, bumiputera, son of the soil!’ But what about the immigrant Chinese? Thinking of China, Wong feels: ‘That was what land was for – to be owned and built on. All men strived to own a bit of this earth; to pass it on to their flesh and blood. Land is identity, stability and family. The reason for slogging.’ Yet that is not the last word. Omar (son of a Malay chief) says, ‘You Chinese work very hard to buy and own land. Then you sell. It’s like what you own, you also disown. We Malays are different. We’re part of the land. We can’t disown it and it can’t disown us. Just like the forest cannot disown the trees.’

…When Wong is arrested by the British and could avoid deportation by disowning the White Crane coolies Brotherhood, he refuses to do so in a very powerful speech, even though as a scholar, he disagrees with nearly everything the Brotherhood believes in. ‘Land and property you can lose,’ he later explains to Kok Seng (his son). ‘But if you lose your spirit, you lose the very thing that makes us human. Courage and loyalty. That’s part of our spirit as human beings.’ …He is leaving something of value for his son and family: words that have moral roots. …In her fourth novel, Lim presents characters of various ethnic origins facing economic imperatives…Lim is seeking to decode history so that Malaysians and Singaporeans can shape its direction.’

~ Peter NAZARETH, University of Iowa
in World Literature Today,
Spring 2001, 75:2 p 325-326


See also Angelia Poon’s article, Mining the Archive: Historical Fiction, Counter-Modernities and Suchen Christine Lim’s A Bit of Earth in Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol 43 (3): 25-42, 2008.


‘In The Lies That Build A Marriage, a paperback fiction and new title published by Monsoon Books Singapore, one straightaway senses that Suchen Christine Lim’s efforts at writing and compiling a series of short stories, have been subtly designed to haunt and provoke a straitlaced but thoughtful Singapore with restless, stirring themes that hover like a dark cloud, over the classic immeasurable pain cradled by marginalised communities.

Be warned that such a book acts like a mini-dynamite… For the surprised but adventurous reader, Lim’s tales waste no time in winding powerful messages into the tender if not sometimes stubborn heart. Lim, one of Singapore’s foremost prized writers, draws on her vast writing experience to create bold but loving debates on the open secrets of homosexuality, measured immorality and even the dire consequences of racism….Lim’s strength lies in her excellent execution of dialect and accents featuring a cruder version of Singapore-dialogue. The rough strains of the English Language, deliberately spoken and written, if you like, with a twitch and tickle. Intensity moulds itself eagerly into harried conversations.

…Lim also successfully ends each questioning story on the play of a sharp poignant note that will hound the reader with subdued reflections. A thinker’s book surely.

….to whet the appetite, Lim regales the reader with true-life anecdotes on the unexpected reception of her book in Singapore amongst nuns, pastors and congregations.’

~  Suzan ABRAMS, Malaysian-Indian critic living in Dublin
Website –  Kafez: Books & Writing,
24 Sept 2008


‘Lim paints an evocative, atmospheric portrait of old Singapore and its vigorous, sometimes-brutal transition to modernity. … (The River’s Song) shows readers deeply rooted communities bulldozed to make way for grandiose developments; populist movements pitted against brusque bureaucracies and police strong-arming; … tells their story in prose that’s subtle, clear eyed and lyrical, linking a city’s rise with the emotional travails of its inhabitants. A fine, deeply felt saga of lives caught up in progress that’s as heartbreaking as it is hopeful.’

~  Kirkus Reviews Issue 15 July 2015


‘Music features prominently throughout the pages of the (The River’s Song) alongside the dazzling mix of languages – several Chinese dialects, Mandarin, Malay, Singlish and English. … Lim has sought to capture in romanized form the vibrancy of a number of non-alphabetic languages that are spoken in Singapore … a reader who is familiar with these dialects and non-English languages will recognise that Lim’s English translations are impeccable.’

~  HL Michelle Chiang.
Moving Worlds : A Journal of Transcultural Writings
Vol 14 No1 2014 pp 127-128
University of Leeds UK


‘An accomplished pipa player (a four-stringed Chinese lute), as an adult, Ping (the protagonist) says, ‘discord and dissonance are the hallmarks of my compositions’ (22). … Her (Lim’s) descriptions of playing the pipa are beautifully intertwined with her exposition. Like art and smells, it can be difficult to convey music in writing, but Lim brings it to life. Books, which not only describe but educate audiences on something new are a real treat. Gail Tsukiyama teaches readers about silk- making in Women of the Silk (1991), Nury Vittachi briltiantly instructs readers about Feng Shui in The Feng Shui Detective (2ooo) and now Suchen Christine Lim leaves readers with an understanding of the history and art of playing the pipa in The River’s Song.’

~ Amanda Roberts in WASAFIRI,
March 2015 pp 87-88


‘The subtitle of her (Lim’s) new collection – Stories of the unsung, unsaid and uncelebrated in Singapore – aptly describes the people in it … maids, cleaners, prostitutes … many existing on the fringes of polite society, and some in unusual ways. … Mei Kwei I Love You, for example, a medium who channels the Monkey God also happens to be a private investigator, which brings her face to face with the woman she fell in love with years before. … In The Morning After, a mother whose son has just comes out worries. “From the outside we are a tolerant, multi-religious, multi-cultural, multi-everything society. But inside there’s a hard kernel. Like an apricot’s. We can be most unforgiving.”’

~ Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,
TLS Times Literary Supplement,
London, 20 July 2018


‘The most arresting feature of this collection is the structural variation across its stories, a quality that has deepened with the four new inclusions and bears out the volume’s emphasis on narrative diversity. If the third-person omniscience, lively plotline and fast-paced final reveal of the first piece in the volume (“Mei Kwei, I Love You”) resembles Chen’s style in Bury What We Cannot Take, Lim swaps this for a coy story-within-a-story in the second (“Ah Nah: An Interpretation”) and transitions to the raw emotion of a first-person account for the third (“The Morning After”)— particularly effective for juxtaposing the tumult of family confrontation with the storm of the narrator’s own internal dilemmas. Most inventive, perhaps, is the form of “The Cleaner’s Son,” one of the recent additions. Told in sixteen sections that switch between the perspectives of Ah Gek, a low-wage cleaner and Kow Kia, her HIV-infected son, it ends with a final “Addendum” revealing that the whole story has in fact been written by Kow Kia (now called John) as part of a plea for clemency for his mother’s death sentence. The story itself thus comes to represent the reversal that must take place for Kow Kia to plead on behalf of someone who has, throughout the narrative, fended for him; this reversal also effectively challenges us, as readers, to consider what prejudices we might set aside to plead for those we love, when the time comes.’

~ Theophilus Kwek: CHA,
Issue 41, September 2018