Dearest Intimate

Suchen Christine Lim’s most recent novel. Published in 2022.

ISBN 9789815044348
Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2022.

Book Launch in October 2022

Book Launch of the Dearest Intimate novel by Suchen Christine Lim.

My Book of the Year 2022 – Singapore Unbound

The highlight amongst Singapore literary publications for me this year is Suchen Christine Lim’s new novel, Dearest Intimate, published by Marshall Cavendish Editions (2022). The novel’s central importance lies in its deep knowledge and illumination of Chinese opera. This dying art, once ubiquitous as street opera or Wayang in Singapore, is almost no more. Dearest Intimate not only brings to life this centuries-old profession and its history for a modern generation but explores the sense of dedication any serious artist must feel to their craft, be they poet, painter, writer, or dancer. ‘Opera is my lifeblood. Much more important than a daily bowl of rice,’ says Master Wu, on the day he founds the Golden Phoenix Cantonese Opera Troup. As with many of Suchen Christine Lim’s novels, Dearest Intimate draws attention to dying ways of life and the onslaught of change. The book’s many layers cross back and forth over time, history, and culture. Woven around the central theme of Chinese Opera, the novel is a deeply felt and sensitively probed exploration of human connection and experience, in difficult marital situations and courtship, loving sisterhood, and family relationships. Above all, this is a book about love in its many guises, in all its brutality and tenderness. Dearest Intimate is an important book for Singapore, and perhaps Suchen Christine Lim’s best.

~ Meira Chand, novelist:

Vivid and Emotionally Powerful

… the Cantonese opera theme has infused a poetic tone throughout (Dearest Intimate) … The book should be read but it is so vivid and emotionally powerful that it deserves to exist in more than one art form.

~ Dr Paul Tan,
a reader residing in New Zealand.

Timeless Tale of Gender Bending, Art and Loss

Working on two timelines, moving between contemporary and pre-war Singapore, Dearest Intimate is a work of literary mirrors, reflecting and connecting images across time and space. It is a book about love and duty; love as it is found in the human heart, poignant, brutal, steadfast, unconventional; duty as demanded in filial obedience, however painful that may be; and the artist’s love of their craft through the mystical state of grace that is found in all deep creativity. Above all, this is a book about transformation and transcendence. Within its present-day timeline, the novel explores the abusive relationship of Xiu Yin and her domineering Eurasian husband Robert. Woven into this modern story is the tale of Xiu Yin’s grandmother — her Por Por, Kam Foong — a famed Chinese opera star, whose love for her childhood friend, her Dearest Intimate, closer than a sister, pervades the whole of the book. Kam Foong’s extraordinary life as a traditional Chinese opera singer and her inner world of yearning for the woman she loves and lost, is lived out for the reader through the medium of letters written to her friend in an old journal that is discovered and given to Xiu Yin on her grandmother’s death. Towards the end of the book, Xiu Yin’s correspondence with her own Dearest Intimate, her lover Meng, mirrors in modern times the unchanging and tangled ways of the human heart.

~ Meira Chand,
Timeless Tale of Gender Bending, Art & Loss,
QLRS Vol 22 no 1 Jan 2023.

A Feast With Many Layers

The author has written a very fine book! Her best!! There is so much going on — 5 generations, 3 countries from the Chinese countryside to contemporary Singapore, 4 love stories and a gruelling divorce, war and Occupation, births and deaths, Cantonese Opera history, Chinese gods and traditions, food, trees!

Although there is a lot of action in each chapter, each scene occurs in thoughtful settings, and the stories flow gently. Descriptions of the Chinese countryside and wartime are just as vibrant as the more modern Singapore. The metaphors are meaningful. Many of the short sections are stand-alone gems. The storytelling jumps back and forth in time, voices and narrative, giving you the chance to tease out details of the mysteries left at the end of the chapters. Although there are many characters, yet secondary ones like Uncle Loke and Mrs. Soh have their moments too. All these characters show the permutations of loving relationships—childhood friends, husband-wife, grandparents and granddaughter, teacher-student, tenement and housing estate dwellers, troupe members, performers and their art.

And despite all the external history, scenes, dialogues, letters, journals, phone calls and emails, in the end, it is also about the internal, dearest intimate relationships, of love restrained and unspoken.

Graduate students will have a feast with its many layers. And readers like myself appreciate the gift that Suchen has given us in Dearest Intimate.

~ Professor Ron Klein,
Hiroshima University.