*this post was updated in October 2017
Before arriving in Myanmar in 2011, it was an effort to find Burmese works written or translated into English. Fifty years of a national literature struggling just to survive and a global literary community unable to access the literature produced from this era has left Myanmar, relative to its size and literary lineage, with one of the least recognised and understood canons in the world …
I – and most others – assumed, given the length of censorship in the country, there simply were no works in translation. I was wrong. After several years of rummaging around the bookshops in Yangon, I have managed to unearth over 150 books, either written in English, or translated into English from Burmese. With the exception of a very small handful, all of the books were published in Yangon and are only available to buy in Yangon which contributes to their invisibility (though since the transition, some publishers, notably Unity and Today Publishing House, have been making their English language back catalogue available as ebooks on Smashwords and Amazon).
To give an idea of what literature is being produce in English in Myanmar: the books are split between a third in fiction and two-thirds in non-fiction. The list includes 20 poetry collections, 16 short story anthologies, 12 novels, 10 biographies and 17 memoirs with the rest focussing on culture, politics and current affairs. Over a quarter (about 60) were published before the abolition of censorship in 2012. Interestingly, less than 40 of the 150 were translated into English from Burmese, with the bulk being originally written in English (and the majority of those were nonfiction, rather than fiction.) Circulation averaged between 500 and 1000 copies for each edition, with the strange exception of one novel published in 1976 which had a circulation of 3000. Multiple publishers have released books in English, but those at the front are Seikku Cho Cho and Today Publishers with 7 each on the list, followed by Unity Books and Thwe Thwe Than Publishing House with 5 each.
I will posting reviews of all the books on Sadaik over the next couple of years, so please click on the link below to read them or go to the homepage.