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Let's Give It Up for Gimme Lao!

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  159 Ratings  ·  34 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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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.
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.

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.
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 hi ...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
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 is difficult - if not next to 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 to one side, becoming something like a "Us vs Them" book with no nuance to speak of. It's so difficult to write a good political novel (as opposed to political tracts), mostly because the writers ...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
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.
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.
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: 2018, singaporean
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
Susan Grigsby
May 10, 2018 rated it liked it
If you want to read a book that will give you an authentic taste of what it meant to grow up in and with Singapore you will love this book. Sebastian Sim gives us Gimme Lao, a complicated character that I alternately loved and disliked - in other words a pretty normal human being. The family dynamics, the community in which he lived, and the essence of living in Singapore are all fully realised and explored. The structure of the narrative is somewhat different than what I'm used to in Western li ...more
Yix Quek
Aug 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Here in Singapore, breathing space is almost entirely reserved for the mainstream. You're guaranteed breathing space only if you are straight, educated, career-centric, married or planning to, and willing to toe the line... Your space gets drastically compressed once you deviate."

Individualism vs Conformity set against a backdrop of nostalgia from Independence to the Sporean Dream of the 5Cs, Bubble Tea craze, SARS saga, Pink Dot, General Elections, etc. I like the book but I can't say the sam
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
Sam Rin
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The book started off a bit slowly with an introduction that didn't interest me but quickly escalated into a really mesmerising read. There were snippets of preachy too-overt 'wisdom', as I've come to expect from a lot of singlit, but a lot more actual wisdom woven in amidst familiar (and welcomingly-unfamiliar) perspectives.

I really like this book! Hope more Singaporeans will give it a shot.
Oct 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Gimme Lao portrays the extreme "perfect Singaporean" with the perfect Singaporean success story and hmm it made me think about the cost of our society's focus on the pursuit of material success. A very humorous and enjoyable read!
Wen Hui
Oct 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
May 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
What an enjoyable read! Pokes fun at many aspects of our taken-for-granted history & life in Singapore.
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
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 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
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
Devane S
Jan 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Born on 9 August 1965, the fictional lead character and the lives connected to him, represent to me, the Singapore story. Not the state-sanctioned one we are used to hearing about, but one that I could relate to a lot better. For example, "Gimme Lao's" Mother, Mary Lao, mirrored the pillar of economic development that was placed above all, as she ferociously persevered and punched her way up from being poor to eventually becoming an esteemed entrepreneur. A determination that stemmed from when s ...more
“The plot wanders in an apparently artless, but in fact artful way... There’s a real sense of control here, and a consistent, organic voice...”
—Philip Holden, editor of Writing Singapore and a judge of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2015

“Finding a book that makes one laugh or cry is exceedingly rare these days. Let's Give It Up For Gimme Lao! is a heartfelt Singapore story that is likely to make its readers do both.”
—Lee Jian Xuan, The Sunday Times
Jan 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Enjoyable, reading a book set in my own homeland for once. But it's rather stifling and loud, some of the time. It was like reading a Taiwanese soap opera, but squashed into a few hours of reading. Still, I liked the cobweb of relationships expanding from Gimme Lao. Favourite character is still Omala, forward and passionate.

The book make me realised how far our society has progressed, and also how little we have progressed. Illuminating read.
Apollos Michio
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
This novel delves into the darker aspects of society and at the same time describes various historical events of Singapore, from Singapore's independence in 1965 to the death of her founding Prime Minister in 2015. With multifarious characters coming together, the novel brings us to see controversial issues from different vantage points. Although, in my opinion, the story could have been more tightly packed, Gimme Lao's life did impact me, unintentional or not.
Tan Clare
Aug 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Veryy different from the stoic genuflection of "Now That It's Over", and the chilly grimness of "Death of a Perm Sec", this other Epigram Fiction finalist is a hilarious black-comedy-esque novel. There are servings aplenty of snarky caricatures of Singapore, her people and her 'developments', sure to tickle the reader to have a good laugh while taking stocking of life in Singapore, while at the same time throwing us the questions of what is important and what we want next before it is too late.
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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
“There were three things Gimme Lao did not know about himself.” 0 likes
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