Born in Penang on 19 October 1924, Lim came to Singapore to study and obtained his degree in English at the Raffles College. Stirred by the rising nationalist fervour during the post-war years, Lim and other undergraduate students consciously explored new ways to write about the place and peoples of their chosen homeland. They used images of the Malayan landscape, words and expressions from the Malay and Chinese languages and wrote about the concerns and situations of the Malayan people.
Lim was a prolific contributor to undergraduate literary publications such as The Cauldron. Lim’s first short story The Powers of the Jungle appeared in the local press in 1952. That was soon followed with an award for a poem submitted for a competition sponsored by Youth World in 1953. Lim would also regularly meet with members of the Youth Poetry Circle to discuss poetry. Together with fellow members, Goh Sin Tub and Edwin Thumboo, they laid the foundation for the development of Singapore literature in the English language.
Lim eventually moved on to write fiction. The 1942-1945 Japanese Occupation formed the backdrop and inspiration to many of Lim’s later works. Having experienced the terror of living under the Japanese military command at the age of 17, Lim was concerned with remembering and recording the past for the next generation. In preparation for his first novel The Siege of Singapore, Lim read many books about the Malayan Campaign and the Japanese Occupation. He also conducted in-depth discussions and interviews with the people who experienced the fall of Singapore.
Best known for his compelling stories which portrayed the sufferings and moral dilemmas of individuals who lived through the Japanese Occupation, his contributions to Singapore literature was recognized with the award of the Public Service Star for authorship in 1979.
Lim Thean Soo passed away on 12 February 1991. During his lifetime, he had written more than 100 short stories, 120 poems and five novels.