Wendy Law Yone – Saving Face

In the latest edition of the Time Literary Supplement, Burmese-American author Wendy Law Yone writes of the difficulties in translating her novel ‘The Road to Wanting’ into Burmese and the power of social media to shift culpability from the guilty to the innocent …

You have to be a subscriber to the TLS to read the full article, but within, Wendy is at pains to set the record straight regarding criticism of the quality of the translation of ‘The Road to Wanting’.  With Wendy being such a well-known novelist, and her publisher, NDSP, a respected house, the incident became a favourite topic in the literary community in Yangon.  The gossip soon focussed on the translator, Win Pyone Myint, the poor job she had done and how Wendy was angry with her.  (In full honesty, I too passed along these rumours whenever the subject came up and never once bothered to double-check their truth.)

It turns out none of these points are true.  In the TLS piece, Wendy confirms she worked Win Pyone Myint, for over a year until both were satisfied with result.  The fault lay on the publisher who printed the wrong draft, an earlier work-in-progress and not the final version that both Wendy and Win Pyone Myint had agreed on.  It should be noted that San Mon Aung, the owner of NDSP, is doing more than most to revitalise the publishing industry in Yangon.  Both writers and readers are benefiting from his hard-work, his Yangon Book Plaza, his Live Literature nights, his development conferences and his attempts to professionalise the industry by securing legal rights and protections for writers.

Mistakes, while regrettable, do happen in the industry.  NDSP apologised and that should have been the end of the matter.  Inevitably though, the debate moved and grew on social media, where readers, either unaware of the NDSP apology or simply not caring,  criticised the translator for attempting to defend herself and demanded she should be grateful for having her mistakes pointed out.

As she ends the piece, Wendy compares her experiences in the aftermath of her novel’s publication in Burma, where she and her translator are expected not just to accept criticism but to welcome it, to a rising and worrying trend in the country where criticism of the state, especially by foreigners in the wake of the Rohingya crisis (and the now sadly ignored and forgotten conflicts in the North and East of Myanmar) should be denounced and rejected.

Image credit @TLS