Myanmar author beats censors after decade-long battle

Wed Sep 24, 2008 1:17am EDT
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By Gillian Murdoch

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - Nu Nu Yi, the first author living in army-ruled Myanmar to have a book published outside the country, battled censors for more than a decade to get her voice heard. Now, she wants other Myanmar writers to follow her.

Yi, whose book "Smile as They Bow" was nominated for the Asian Booker prize last year, is determined to help create a canon of Burmese literature that will fill its own shelves at English-language bookshops, and not be filed under Thailand.

She spoke to Reuters after the publication of the English translation of her novel, a gritty portrayal of the raucous week-long Taungbyon festival, which celebrates spirits known as "nats" who are believed to shower luck on people they favor.

Q: "Smile as They Bow" is the first book by a writer living in Myanmar to be translated into English. Is this a milestone?

A: When I was at Oxford in 1998, I saw Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's "Letters from Burma" at Blackwell's bookstore. It was the only book from Myanmar -- on the Thailand bookshelf -- they didn't even have a Burma bookshelf.

No one knows the tears I shed there at Blackwell's. I wanted to see Myanmar writers and Myanmar bookshelves in international bookstores. There are many writers, and even more unpublished manuscripts. But there are very few translators and no connections to foreign publishers.

So for me personally, and for Myanmar literature, the U.S. publication of "Smile As They Bow" is very important.

Q: Can you explain why the book took three years to research and write -- and then 12 years to be published?   Continued...