San Lin Tun is the only writer I know in Myanmar who writes exclusively in English. His story, ‘An Overheated Heart’ which appeared in Hidden Words, Hidden Words: Contemporary Short Stories from Myanmar, was, I think, the first he had published in Burmese. This has made him an unknown quantity among literary circles in Yangon as his contemporaries, mostly unable to read his English work, are uncertain how to rate him as a writer.
This feature by Zon Pann Pwint in the Myanmar times is an overdue recognition of San Lin Tun and she is not exaggerating when she says,
When one asks the average native English speaker to list Myanmar’s most famous writers, they’re likely to mention names such as Khin Myo Chit, Ma Thenegi, Pascal Khoo Htwe and, of course, Aung San Suu Kyi. Myanmar writers who’ve achieved fame abroad have offered rare insight Myanmar’s rich cultural traditions while at the same time its tumultuous political history in stories which have the ability to appeal to both local and international audiences.
There soon could be another name to add to the list. San Lin Tun.
The feature, though, doesn’t really go far enough in supporting Zon Pann Pwint’s prediction.
As well as his appearance in the first anthology of short stories from Myanmar published in UK, San Lin Tun has also seen an English translation of a story appear in the Asia Literary Review; a story published in the New Asian Writing anthology; he won the inaugural Welsh Day poetry competition chaired by the former Director of Poetry Ireland; he has completed and published the first English translations of Shwe U Daung’s Burmese Sherlock Holmes and then there are the 10 English language fiction and non-fiction books published in Yangon.
San Lin Tun is an intelligent writer. His stories are often reflective, eschewing drama and taboo for a deeper peek at what lives within us. He is phenomenally well read and well versed in English writers varying from Joyce to O’Henry to, as the article says, Naipaul. The lack of contemporary story writers in Burmese translation or available in English in the bookshops has shown an evident influence and appreciation of pre and post war Western writers in San Lin Tun’s work. And this is what he writes best, the slow build, layering one narrative upon the other, characters who think and ponder and deliberate their next moves. Much like himself. San Lin Tun is aware of his ambitions, that is the reason why he chose, at great personal cost to his own reputation, to write only in English, but it was a decision that might repay him many times over.
*This is the first in a series of adapted profiles on writers taken from the 2017 anthology ‘Hidden Words Hidden Worlds: Contemporary Short Stories from Myanmar’