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Let's Give It Up for Gimme Lao!

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  333 ratings  ·  57 reviews
Finalist for the 2015 Epigram Books Fiction Prize
Shortlisted for the 2017 Singapore Book Award for Fiction

“I don’t aspire to be nice. I do what is necessary to get what I want.”

Born on the night of the nation’s independence, Gimme Lao is cheated of the honour of being Singapore’s firstborn son by a vindictive nurse. This forms the first of three things Gimme never knows ab
Paperback, 320 pages
Published March 2016 by Epigram Books
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Average rating 3.91  · 
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Aug 02, 2017 rated it did not like it
Even if one acknowledges the importance of something, it always needs to be critiqued.

Let’s Give It Up for Gimme Lao by Sebastian Sim starts rolling with a not-so-subtle cover depicting the titular protagonist in a white shirt and a logo. Gimme Lao is a “man in white”, a member of Singapore’s ruling party, and represents the “ideal” Singaporean: the pragmatic rule-loving overachieving human. But as we begin the book, this Singaporean son isn’t that straightforward and simple as he wishes to be.

Apr 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
What a great read! Sebastian Sim digs into the open wounds that is Singapore and elicit laughter and contemplation. What a voice.
Jasvinder Singh
Apr 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
To be honest, almost every page in this book kept me wanting to read on and on. The author managed to tell a story that made you feel a rollercoaster of emotions for its characters. What I liked best about it was that it is a story about Singapore. The vivid descriptions warmed my heart just thinking about all the small things that we as Singaporeans have experienced growing up. I feel that there is also a lot of truth in the setting of the story and it is heavily influenced on the characteristi ...more
Yi Ling
May 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
A powerful tour de force told with finesse and heart, this Singapore Story is a satirical and poignant page-turner written with an impressive eye for historical detail. Its astute and darkly humorous look into the different faces/facets/foibles of society (眾生相) reminds the reader of a good old Chinese literary novel that lures you in, embroils you in its twists and turns, shocks you, and breaks your heart, leaving you on a reflective note long after the (family) tale is over. A must-read.
Xiangting Lim
May 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended for Singaporean. The story is like a nice retelling of history and to how Singapore changed from a family 's perspective. Most people should be able to identify different historical movement. ...more
Jun 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: not-disneyland
reads like a series of episodes at different stages of the life of protagonist gimme lao – variously teacher's pet/star student, doctor, politician, model citizen and mouthpiece for the "values" of the one-party state. sometimes it winds into biographical digressions about the histories of a cast of supporting characters that cross paths with gimme & the lao family. these were mostly believable. i get that the point is to shed light on vastly differing socioeconomic circumstances & to highlight ...more
Feb 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed reading this! The scope of this book is ambitious, to say the least: Gimme Lao's life begins on 9 Aug 1965 and his story only ends in the early 2010s, spanning virtually all of modern Singapore's history. Along the way Sim touches on a considerable number of familiar national milestones, from the earliest school dental hygiene/water-saving campaigns to Operation Snip Snip (yes this is actually what it was called) to SARS, making for a narrative that's quite easy for most Singapore ...more
Sep 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was recommended to me by a staff of Epigram Books at a Made In Singapore pop up in the National Design Center. A persuasive saleslady, she claimed that this was the all-time-favourite book amongst Epigram Books staff for the past few years. Eager to lap up Sg pop culture before moving to Shanghai, I got the book with some scepticism...
... and ended up really enjoying it. It is full of cultural references and turning points in Singapore, interweaved with the life of the titular characte
Sep 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
What felt like a classic Singapore story ultimately left me feeling like this book was somewhat of a protest.

Recommended by my friend to start reading mote SingLit, this was my first intro to the genre. I'm not surprised at the way it challenges and perfectly embodies what it means to be uniquely(or not so uniquely) Singaporean in a somewhat ironic way. From Singapore's independence to the SARS outbreaks and politics, Gimme Lao and Singapore both share a similar path of growth as two separate e
Jun 21, 2017 rated it did not like it
You know that primary school "friend" you had who suddenly chats you up and wants to catch up with you about the Good Old Days, and then later u find out all he wants to do is to sell you insurance? This book is a bit like that, except there's a different (but no less disappointing) kind of bait-and-switch going on here.

In addition to a multi-racial cast discussing and living in HDB flats, I'm beginning to wonder if "homosexual man struggling with his identity in straitlaced, conservative Singa
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
This novel proves it difficult--if not impossible--to write even a decent novel with a political agenda. The novel starts interestingly enough, delineating the episodic adventures of the boy protagonist in kindergarten and school, but once it embarks on political grounds, it tips perilously, becoming something like a "Us vs Them" book. It's so difficult to write a good political novel (as opposed to political tracts), mostly because writers allow their biases to scupper the art. And so it is wit ...more
Mar 21, 2016 rated it liked it
A surprisingly charming and winning debut novel about Gimme Lao, a would-be modern Singapore-as-man. This seemingly aimless novel explores both the public and private parts of the rapidly advancing nation-state, weighing its widely publicised gains with its unseen losses, with a focus on the LGBT and religious communities. Unfortunately, its ending is rushed and overly dramatic, and the language is a bit perfunctory, with too many typo errors and unnecessary commas. Still, looking forward to wha ...more
Wilson Lim Setiawan
Mar 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Because you’re my ticket to my Singapore Dream.

Easy to follow and entertaining throughout. This satire covers everything uniquely Singapore from separation from Malaysia, the handling of the SARS outbreak, interracial HDB relations and the obsession over the 5Cs in a way that remains decently balanced and even insightful.

Although well paced, there is perhaps a slight agenda on LGBT activism and capitalism along with a quite poor ending. Still full of relatable relatives and moments, its undoubte
One of the best literary works by a Singaporean I've read up to date. A poignant satire spanning the birth and death of the first baby born post-independence, Gimme Lao is a realistic look into the gritty life of an average person living in the Singaporean society. More than that, it probes into the choices and decisions we make in life and ultimately questions the value we have in this world.

May 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars from me. Some good bits in the book about local issues like the mega church and its attitude towards money (their love of it), LGBT people (their discrimination towards them) and even how members are recruited, appraised and how dissident voices are suppressed. Of course this is hardly a fair assessment of mega Churches in general but the book does raise some pertinent issues of disturbing trends seen in the rise of mega churches in Singapore. Not a bad book overall.
May 16, 2016 rated it liked it
Progressed into a rather enjoyable read. The author has deftly weaved some local hot topics, a few rather current ones at that, against the backdrop of the first born baby to be born into 1965 Singapore. I was very skeptical about the title initially (what a name for the protagonist) ,but the cover made me borrow this. Quite an easy read -few pages as "nightcap" daily and book conquered. ...more
Judith Huang
Oct 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
A wonderful book that captures the zeitgeist of Singapore in the past few decades. A kind of Singaporean midnights children if you will, but far more low key and less bombastic than Rushdie. Memorable characters and interesting plot lines, with a particular focus on the gay experience in Singapore. However, it didn’t quite stick the landing in my opinion.
Feb 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Just an amazing book about the ordinary life of ordinary people in Singapore. Including all of the cultural and religious element of the melting pot that is Singapore. A must read for anyone who have ever step foot in Singapore.
Apr 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Appropriately nostalgic, capturing intelligently the human psychology under its many forms and the ironies of fate through all kinds of Singapore institutions: schools, church, army, hospitals & government...

The SARS chapter is an interesting juxtaposition to current times. A very enjoyable read!
Feb 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
It was a fun read, loved the characters. The writing was a bit basic but I really enjoyed it as a Singaporean-American :)
Jan 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Spoilers alert

The lead character, Gimme Lao is portrayed as typical Singapore success – a medical doctor with political ambitions, having toed the line in strait-laced Singapore literally all his life for instance, he was a strict class monitor when first appointed as one in primary school and took his monitoring duties a tad too seriously, and the unravelling of his personal life due in part due to his only son’s life style choices; a plot development that I could see coming a mile away, but we
Jul 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
One punch. It took only one punch to change Gimme Lao’s life. When he was born, he was cheated of the honour of becoming Singapore’s firstborn baby on the night of the nation’s independence. And that’s not the end.

There’s tension between Gimme Lao’s parents. He’s betrayed into a shotgun marriage by his wife, Wei Wen. His son, Skype, comes out of the closet, right at the moment when he’s running for political office. Hope, dreams, affairs, death, deception; Let’s Give It Up For Gimme Lao! is fast
Jul 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
"There are three things Gimme Lao did not know about himself. The first occurred at his point of birth. The second happened way before he was born. And the third repeated itself many times over in his life.

Strictly speaking, the third was not about him. It was about the pivotal impact he had on other people, which he never found out about."
Thus begins the story of Gimme Lao as we follow the tragicomic events of his life over the next 50 years from Singapore's independence on 9 Aug 1965 until G
Jieqi Xu
Jun 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone interested in Singapore and Singaporeans
Shelves: loves
I love this book! The history of Singapore and various phases that the country went through was seen through the perspective of the protagonist and people around him.

By following Gimme Lao's life which started on the day of Singapore's independence, it is as if the readers are following the progress of the country (hopefully not his demise) from a third person view. Through the phase where Singapore has a campaign for everything to the 5C Singapore Dream era to SARs and the bubble tea trend etc
Aug 31, 2016 rated it liked it
Started off great, you get drawn in quickly by the neighbourhood characters, fleshed out in that old Singaporean nostalgia. The many details of the lives of peripheral characters forming the colourful world young Gimme inhabits. And the outstanding Gimme, so different from his peers.

Which makes it awkward and slightly confusing to see him descend into conformity, when his own mother teaches critical thinking. Soon enough, the second half of the book starts to read like a tired tirade against th
The story turns out to be pretty interesting, but the writing craft is almost entirely absent. The novel is almost entirely told in straightforward summary with very few scenes where you are put in a character’s shoes watching events unfold in real time. Hence he almost never builds any tension in the reader’s mind. It feels as though the author is rushing through recounting the (very entertaining) story to a busy friend. I still found it worth reading though, for these snippets of interest:

Aug 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book brings back fond memories of my growing-up years, with reference to events/campaigns/places long-gone, and I wonder if readers of a younger generation would appreciate these references as much as me. The writing style is good and moves from one character to another seamlessly, and each chapter covers a few different personalities and develops them over the course of the book. However, while this makes me feel for the various characters, this does have the slight side-effect of not deve ...more
Apr 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: singaporean, 2018, asian
A book for every Singaporean to read.

Granted that I always complain about how most local reads are political even for fiction and this book is no exception, I did find it hard to put it down since it's so interesting.

Spanning decades from Singapore's independence to SARS and even the recent gay penguin book saga, it was easy to relate to the very Singaporean things. It's so real and almost reflected like a mirror of how we were taught and how we thought.

Will definitely share my copy around with
Jia Ming
May 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a great read. I remembered being cynical and wondering if this would be a rip off of Midnight’s Children when I first picked this up but I’m glad to be wrong.

The story follows that of a 3 gen family told in a linear format (with the occasional throwbacks). I’m usually cautious of these kind of formats as it’s so easy to get lost following the story line. Fortunately, this one comes nicely packaged without any irrelevant story arcs (here’s looking at you Salman)

The characters are also very
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
I finished this book with a sense of "so what"? Gimme Lao has his own perspective (uncritical, playing by the system). The author portrays Gimme Lao and his family, who take advantage of Singapore's sociopolitical changes and expectations in order to rise from poverty to high / middle class.

I quite liked (view spoiler)
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Sebastian Sim grew up in a two-room HDB flat with parents who were part of the pioneer generation of independent Singapore. Not one to shy away from the road less taken, he has travelled around the world to soak up different experiences and cultures, and tried his hand in diverse industries: a bartender at Boat Quay, an assistant outlet manager at McDonald’s, an insurance salesman, a prison office ...more

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