Admiring the Sorrento Villa

I’ve always admired this building.  Perhaps because it stands so out of place in the curve of one of the city’s largest roundabouts, far from the downtown townships, where the crush of so many colonial era buildings can often minimise their grandeur. Though the exact date of its construction is unknown, as is the original owner, the Sorrento Villa seems to have a century long connection to literature …

It is possible the villa was the 1930’s home, at least for a short while, to the journalist U Chit Maung, the husband of celebrated writer Journal Kyaw Ma Ma Lay.  It was the site of General Aung San’s last public speech before he was assassinated.

In the late 40’s and early 50’s it was the home of the Burma Translation Society, an initiative of the post premier U Nu, a playwright himself, who championed the cause of literary translation.  When the society rebranded (as Sarpay Beikmann – House of Literature) and relocated (to downtown Kyauktada Township), the Villa housed a printing press for Sarpay Beikmann, publishing translations of world classics that the House became famous for before the 1962 military coup.  During the socialist era, literature was repurposed to ‘uphold the national character’ of the Burmese and the villa became a literary propaganda ground, the site of the Sarpay Beikmann’s increasingly hollow annual literary awards, the scene for open-air literary talks organised by both the Ministry of Culture and Information, and a reception venue for visiting dignitaries.

In the 1990’s the press fell into disrepair and the building a shadow of its former literary self.  During the early 2000’s, the villa and the grounds remained the property of the Union government, a Myanmar Post and Telecommunications office was built in the once grand gardens and the villa itself is now rented out to EMS International, a postal delivery service.  The villa, as a functioning business, is open to foreigners, and is still in remarkably good condition though there is little evidence of any recognition of its history.

Address: 361 Pyay Road, Sanchaung Township, Yangon, Myanmar

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