Catherine Lim: Romance novelist turned political maverick

Catherine Lim: Romance novelist turned political maverick

There's no stopping the 'doyenne of Singapore writers' as she gathers up more political steam
Catherine Lim in the New York Times
She hardly seems the type to take on the government, but romance writer and ghost storyteller Catherine Lim continues to say things few others dare to in her blog.

Think "political dissenter" and "liberal voice in Singapore" and the image of a sweaty, megaphone-mouthed rally activitist most readily springs to mind. But the impression most Singaporeans have of Catherine Lim, arguably the most well-known local author, regards her signature cheongsam and supernova white pearlies. And many -- including yours truly -- can remember long hours in secondary school classrooms slaving over and dissecting one of her many Singapore-based books, which have since been incorporated into school curriculum. She doesn't seem like much of a threat to the administration.

It is no secret that while the PAP Government has inspired in the people much respect for its efficiency and much gratitude for the good life as a result of this efficiency, there is very little in the way of affectionate regard.— Opening para from Catherine's 1994 commentary, 'The PAP and the people — A Great Affective Divide'

To her name, she's got nine collections of short stories (with assorted ghostly tales), five novels (one of which was made a romance flick), two poetry collections and numerous political commentaries, including an infamous screed called 'The PAP and the people — A Great Affective Divide,' which took everyone by surprise. It was later known unofficially as the 'Catherine Lim affair.'

The New York Times recently ran an interview and profile of Catherine, calling her "the most vivid personality in strait-laced Singapore" who's one of the government’s most acute critics "when she is not writing witty romantic novels or telling ghost stories."

According to NYT, she's established herself as a leading voice for liberalism, and when newspapers shy away from printing her more pointed views in this heavily censored and self-suppressing society, she posts them on her Web site,, continuing to say things few others dare to. In a recent dialogue with Singapore's founding father, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, she posed the provocative question of whether he would send in the army in the unlikely event that the People's Action Party (P.A.P.) lost an election. Mr Lee said he had ensured safeguards were in place.

But when she's not criticizing the ruling administration, Catherine is out living life and giving it back where she can -- she's 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. She's penned a first-person novella called Meet Me on the Queen Elizabeth 2 detailing her flirtations on a cruise ship with men and the power of the cheongsam, as well as 'Unhurried Thoughts At My Funeral', which outlines her thoughts on death and perfect happiness through equilibrium and oblivion.

Way to go, Cath.