Lost in translation, no longer Long-awaited dictionary brings 20th century Myanmar authors to foreign audiences
O much can be lost in translation. Connotation, humour, and nuance are often the first casualties of crude translations, condemning the works of some of the world’s greatest writers to obscurity outside their homeland. Unfortunately, this has been a common theme in regards to Myanmar writers. A scarcity of quality translators means that most native English speakers struggle to name on one hand the country’s literary masters.
But now, thanks to the work of local historians, foreigners will no longer have any excuse to plead ignorance.
Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth Century Myanmar Writers, the first of its kind in English language in Myanmar, was launched in October and covers the lives of 137 living and deceased Myanmar writers of the 20th century, including wartsand-all critiques of their work and their views on literature.
“Myanmar’s authors are little known to readers abroad. I hope the dictionary helps promote them,” said historian U Thaw Kaung, former chief librarian of the University of Yangon’s central library, who edited the book.
The book was started in 2005 by a team of librarians headed by U Myo Thant (aka. Maung Hsu Shin), the former chief editor and director of Sarpay Beikman (The Myanmar House of Literature) but the project was put on hold after he passed away in 2009.
U Thaw Kaung, deputy of the team, pushed on with the work in 2014 and saw it through until its completion in October.
“When I went to Japan to receive the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize I gave lectures on modern Myanmar literature and I noticed that many Japanese students were interested in learning about Myanmar culture and literature. There are many people out there who are interested in our culture and literature.”
The book is aimed at foreign readers, particularly scholars, who are interested in Myanmar authors and want to see a brief summary of their work, U Thaw Kaung said.
There are more than one hundred notable Myanmar authors but just a few of their works have been translated into foreign languages, such as Smile as they Bow by Nu Nu Yi which was translated into English by Alfred Birnbaum and Thi Thi Aye and The Sweet Honey Drop on the Sharp Scalpel Blade by Nyi Pu Lay, translated by Zaw Tun. Tetkatho Phone Naing’s 1959 novel Never Shall Be Enslaved was translated into Chinese while author Ma Sandar, who won the Myanmar Literature Award in 1993 and 1999, has had several of her novels translated in Russian, German, English, Japanese and Thai.
‘Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth Century Myanmar Writers’ is available at all reputable bookstores for US$25 or K34,000.
Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth Century Myanmar Writers features the lives and work of 137 of the country’s notable writers.