Books·Canadian

An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim

Thea Lim's novel speaks of learning to let go of the past in a world of time travel.

America is in the grip of a deadly flu pandemic. When Frank catches the virus, his girlfriend Polly will do whatever it takes to save him, even if it means risking everything. She agrees to a radical plan. Time travel has been invented; if she signs up for a one-way trip into the future to work as a bonded labourer, the company will pay for the life-saving treatment Frank needs. Polly promises to meet Frank again in Galveston, Texas, where she will arrive in 12 years.

But when Polly is re-routed an extra five years into the future, Frank is nowhere to be found. Alone in a changed and divided America, with no status and no money, Polly must navigate a terrifying new world to find Frank, to discover if he is alive and to see if their love has endured.

The novel is beautifully written and guides us through a plot that moves backwards and forward — yet, never lets us go.- 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize jury

An Ocean of Minutes is a gorgeous, devastating novel about courage, yearning, the cost of holding onto the past and the price of letting it go. (From Viking Press)

An Ocean of Minutes was on the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist.

Thea Lim writes about love, time travel and immigration in her novel

"As humans, it's a basic facet of our understanding that everything is temporary. Everyone that we truly love will eventually, either leave us or die and yet we continue to fall in love, sustain connections and rely on one another. I wasn't interested in why we do this. I was more interested in how we do it, how we suspend this disbelief. I realized that what I was thinking about was grief and bereavement. What had crossed my mind was that when someone is bereaved, they're stuck in time. They can't move forward, they can't go on. As a pun to myself I thought, 'What if I actually stick someone in time?' The next thing I knew I was writing a time travel novel.

"As humans, it's a basic facet of our understanding that everything is temporary. Everyone that we truly love will eventually, either leave us or die and yet we continue to fall in love, sustain connections and rely on one another.- Thea Lim

"But then something else unexpected came into the story — it became about immigration and displacement. The time travel in my novel winds up being a stand-in for the way that people travel geographically in our world."

Read more of Thea Lim's interview with CBC Books.

From the book

People wishing to time travel go to Houston Intercontinental Airport. At the orientation, the staff tell them that time travel is just like air travel, you even go to the same facility. People used to be apprehensive about airline travel too. But when you arrive at the airport, it is not the same at all. Before you can get within a mile of the terminals, you reach a bus stop moored at the edge of a vast concrete flat, where you must leave your vehicle and ascend a snaking trolley, like the ones they have at the zoo.


From An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim ©2018. Published by Viking Press.

Interviews with Thea Lim

The first-time Giller finalist explores the human ability to love despite impermanence, heartbreak and loss. 1:05
Thea Lim talks about her first novel An Ocean of Minutes. 3:18
Author Thea Lim explores time travel in a dystopian world wracked by pandemic in her first novel, An Ocean of Minutes. Lim talks to Tom Power about drawing on her own experience of growing up in Canada and Singapore to create this parable about immigration. 12:21

Other books by Thea Lim

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