This is a story of a friendship so connected that without it one is not whole but lost.
Middle-class, clever and white, Nick is a child of privilege while his best friend Andie is the daughter of Indo-Chinese refugees. Despite their very different backgrounds, they share a conviction they can change the world for the better.
At the outset, Nick is pushing papers in a dead-end job while Andie is embarking on a secular crusade against world poverty.
This generates conflict with her white husband Benjamin, who feels that Australians should come first. Meanwhile, Andie's cousin, the teenage Tony is burdened by his parents' traumatic past and impossible expectations. To their dismay, he finds solace in radical faith.
S. L. Lim acutely captures the dreams and disaffections of a millennial generation.
Real Differences is an emotionally resonant novel about idealism, ethical ambition, and love, filled with unforgettable characters.
S. L. Lim was born in Singapore, moved to Sydney at the age of one, and has spent a good part of her life toggling back and forth between the two places. After dropping out of law school she graduated with an economics degree and lived the life of a suit for a while before going freelance. Her manuscript 'Revenge' was longlisted for the 2017 Epigram Fiction Prize in Singapore and will be published by Transit Lounge in 2020. She lived for a period in the Slovak Republic, hates injustice, compulsory heterosexuality and the state, and has two pet birds almost as old as she is.
Author: S. L. Lim
Question: What inspired you to write Real Differences?
S. L. Lim: When I was a teenager I remember sitting in the bath thinking about a line in To Kill A Mockingbird - something to the effect that a good person is someone who does their best according to their lights. I remember wondering if that applied to Osama bin Laden, who for all his many and obvious faults very likely believed he was doing the right thing. I shelved that particular thought but returned to later it in my early twenties with the idea of four characters, each of whom is motivated by wanting to 'save the world' in some way, but who have very different ideas of what that means.
Question: How much of your inspiration comes from real life and real people?
S. L. Lim: Some but far from all. Certain incidents and biographical details have been borrowed from reality, but scattered and refracted into different shapes so that their meaning becomes, not exactly different, but intensified and clarified in some ways. That said, a couple of people might recognise themselves. Hello!
Question: What is the main message you hope readers take from Real Differences?
S. L. Lim: I think 'Real Differences' is a story, not a message, but if you must: Good people can be racist! Ditch your racist-ass boyfriend! The world is sad and it breaks you! Working out how to do the right thing is really hard!
Question: What was the best part about creating the characters of Nick and Andie?
S. L. Lim: Giving voice to certain observations and experiences which I hadn't seen articulated in fiction before. Creating polarised people to represent particular viewpoints with which I have sympathy, if not total agreement, and articulate them with perhaps more force than I personally would.
Question: Are the characters based on anyone you know?
S. L. Lim: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. No part of this novel comprises a dialogue with friends and contemporaries, personal therapy, or petty revenge upon my enemies, none at all...
Interview by Brooke Hunter
Author: S. L. Lim