Time travel and immigration intersect in Thea Lim's novel An Ocean of Minutes

An Ocean of Minutes is on the shortlist for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Thea Lim is a Toronto-based writer and teacher. (Elisha Lim/ Viking Canada)
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Thea Lim is a Singaporean-Canadian writer. Her latest, An Ocean of Minutes, is a dystopian novel about love separated by time and the sacrifices made to preserve it. When a deadly flu sweeps through America, a man named Frank is stricken with the virus. His partner, Polly, takes on a job that will pay for his treatment, but the work is 12 years in the future and once she travels forward, she can't return. They agree to meet then, but Polly gets rerouted to the wrong year. The novel tracks her tumultuous journey to find him.

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

Paradox of time and space

"I wanted to use time travel as an analogy for immigration. I realised by setting an immigration story in an alternate past and in another world, it loosened that experience from particular historical constraints. It could really look at the interior experience of displacement."

Immigrant narratives

"I have a weird immigration story. I was born in Canada, then reverse migrated with my family to Singapore. I say reverse migrated because we went to my father's country of origin. Then we moved back to Canada, I moved back to Singapore, then I moved to England.

"I've always related deeply to immigration narratives. But at the same time, my own immigration story didn't fit with a particular wave of ethnic migration. I didn't want to write a memoir. I didn't want to write about exactly what happened, as my story is so convoluted I think readers would get lost. I was interested in the experiences of immigration that cross ethnic boundaries."

Thea Lim's comments have been edited for length and clarity.