Lost in trans­la­tion, no longer Long-awaited dic­tionary brings 20th cen­tury Myan­mar au­thors to for­eign au­di­ences

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse - ZON PANN PWINT

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.

Pho­tos: Thiri Lu

Bio­graph­i­cal Dic­tionary of Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury Myan­mar Writ­ers fea­tures the lives and work of 137 of the coun­try’s no­table writ­ers.

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