Myanmar Literature in Translation

If you were planning a trip to Myanmar, one of the first things you would do would be to read up on the country, right?  Go onto Amazon and see how many books there are on Myanmar now.   Thanks to renewed interest in the country, the list is growing monthly.  Now have look at the authors’ names and see how many of those books were written by a Myanmar author.

The majority of books available on Myanmar are written by foreign ‘country experts’, such as Rory Maclean’s Under the Dragon, or by exiled Myanmar nationals who left the country 25 years ago, like Thant Myint U’ River of Lost Footsteps.  Rory Maclean’s May Guardian article on the top ten books on Myanmar is a pretty good summation of where readers turn to when they want to read about Myanmar.  6 of his top 10 were written by foreigners, 2 by exiled writers, one by Daw Suu and his last pick, Zarganar, who, at the time MacLean was writing, had not written a book.  (Zarganar has since released an autobiography of his time in prison and it is currently in the process of being translated).

To be fair to Rory MacLean, his list is hardly surprisingly considering the dirge of English language works written by writers in Myanmar, either in the original English or in translation.  The reasons for this can be traced back to Ne Win’s coup in 1962.  Prior to this, state high schools and missionary schools were still staffed by  foreign teachers with an emphasis on English Language instruction, which is why you see the dominance of great English language writers such as Journal Kyaw Ma Ma Lay and Daw Khin Myo Chit between the 1940’s and 1960’s.  After Ne Win expelled the expat community and the subsequent drop in government spending on education, two generations of future novelists in Myanmar have limited English language capability,  Which is why the rise of of the few in Myanmar who do write in English often have a secondary career in Medicine or Architecture, such as Dr Ma Thida (Sanchaung).

For translation, we can again point the finger of blame at Ne Win – and Than Swe for continuing Ne Win’s policies – who instigated the 1962 Printers and Publishers Act, which apart from binding the writers of Myanmar to some of the most draconian censorship measures of the 20th Century, also curtailed the efforts of the Myanmar Translation Society, which up to then had been at the forefront of successful efforts to translate Myanmar works in English.  Deemed harmful to the peaceful state of the nation, the Myanmar Translation Society was renamed Sarpay Beikmann and limited to translating academic treatises from English to Myanmar.

5 decades of a national literature struggling just to survive and a global literary community unable to access the literature produced from this preservation era has left Myanmar, relative to it’s size and literary lineage, with one of the least recognised and appreciated narrative forms in the world.

To help correct this, in a very small way, below is a list of texts written by Myanmar authors either in English or translated into English.  The list is not exhaustive but represents a fair compilation of English Language works by Myanmar authors available in bookstores in Yangon over the last two years.  Several of the works have been published overseas (to circumvent the old Press Scrutiny and Registration Board) and and such are available in foreign countries through the internet.  The remainder are unlikely to be available outside of Myanmar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author

Title

Publisher

Genre

First Published

Last Edition

 Maung Htin Aung

Burmese Monk Tales

Columbia Uni. Press

Folk Tales

1966

Khin Myo Chit (1)

Her Infinite Variety

San Yaung  Shein

Short Stories

1970’s

2004

Khin Myo Chit (2)

Gift of Laughter

Parami Sarpay

Short Stories

1995

2011

Khin Myo Chit (3)

Sketches of Myanmar

Unity

Non-fiction stories

1950 – 1990

2005

Khin Myo Chit (4)

Flowers and Festivals

Sarpay Lawka

Cultural Essays

1980

2002

Ludu U Hla

The Caged Ones

White Orchid Press

Biographies

1956 (?)

1998

U Thaw Kaung

Myanmar Wonderland

Today Publishers

Cultural Essays

1990’s

2013

Mi Mi Khaing

Burmese Family

Ava Publishers

Autobiography

1946

1996

           Ma Ma Lay

A Man Like Him

Cornell Uni. Press

Biography

1947

2008

Maung Maung Lwin

Traditional Chess

Ma Khin Mya

Rule Book

2011

Dr. Maung Maung

Aung San of Burma

Unity

Biography

1962

2011

Dr. Maung Maung

A Trial in Burma

Unity

Biography

1962

2012

Kyaw Maung Nyunt

Careless Talk

Thwe Thwe Than

Short Stories

2000

Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt

A Pot-Pourri of Myanmar

Gon Htoo Books

Cultural Essays

2013

U Than Pe

Myanmar Culture

Su Publishers

Cultural Essays

1940’s

Dr. Ma Thida

The Roadmap

Silkworm Books

Documentary Fiction

2011

Mya Than Tint

On the Road to Mandalay

White Orchid Press

Biographies

1987 – 1991

1996

Ko Ko Thett

Bones will Crow

Arc Publications

Poetry

2012

Pascal Khoo Thwe

From the Land of Green Ghosts

Harper Collins

Autobiography

2003

San Lin Tun

Classic Night at Café Blues

Kankkawmyaing

Short Stories

2010

U Thet Tun

Waves of Influence

Loka Ahlinn

Autobiography

2011

Various

Myanmar Short Stories

Unity

Short Stories

2009

Italics denote an overseas publisher

7 Comments

  1. Pascal Khoo Thwe left the country in 1988 and never returned. Thant Myint-U was out of the country only from 1988-1995 and has been living there now for many years. He was never really exiled.

  2. Thant Myint-U at least wrote his books from Burma over the past ten years (after he return), several of the ones you have (eg Ko Ko Thett, Pascal K-H) wrote from overseas.

  3. Hi Alex and Helen. Thant Myint U has never actually lived in Burma. Born and educated in America, from 1994 to 1999 he lived in England, from 2000 to 2009 in New York, 2009 – 2010 in Bangkok, from a 2009 interview with Gadling.com: “I’m always happy to go to Rangoon, which is where my family’s from – I’ve never lived there properly but have gone nearly every year since I was very young”. All his books, as far as i know, were written in the West. True though, he was certainly never exiled.

  4. Helen – Thanks for the reply Sadaik – but I know he’s been living here, at least the last few years, he has a house here and Ive seen him at many events, and his office is the Yangon Heritage Trust which he runs (downtown). He is also a presidential adviser. My point is that he lives and works here but many on your list have not lived here for a long time.

  5. Hi Helen, you are right, he has been semi-living in Yangon for the last two years but he also still divides his time between Bangkok and has spent the least amount of time in Myanmar compared to the other writers on the list. Of course, none of that takes away from the quality of his books, all three are intelligent and passionate. When you say many on the list have not lived here for a long time, which ones are they? Except for Pascal Khoo Thwe and possibly Ko Ko Thett all the other writers were born in Burma, and lived their lives here. (and died here, perhaps that’s what you mean by not living here for a long time) Again, except PKT and Thant Myint u, all the other writers wrote their books in Burma or edited anthologies that were written in Burma. I guess the point of the post was to create a list of English Language works written by Myanmar authors, to compliment Thant Myint U and PKT and to give readers more choice. Cheers for taking an interest in the article.

  6. Hi Lucas,

    Thanks so much for this list. It is invaluable in recording the history of this country’s rich literary history. I came across a name, Kohnmine, does this name have any meaning for you, cheers Bob

    1. Hi Bob, will be honest, never heard of it before. Sounds a bit like a pen name though, perhaps the location of the writer’s birth town or township (like Ma Thida Sanchaung)

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