Category Archives: Burmese

A Well-Tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker, translated by Kevin Wiliarty

Well-Tempered HeartEvery once in a while, only the very best schmaltz will do. Earnest and endearing, this just-arriving-in-translation sequel to the international mega-bestseller, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, is a through-the-night read that will leave you sighing and swooning.

Okay, so we’re not talking Nobel-quality: “‘I speak of a love that brings sight to the blind.’” We’re not particularly surprised by the cold shrink who thinks mind-altering drugs are the only cure, or the wise sage that has no use for colorful pills. We’re so sure that true love is going to happen that we’ll guess the ending long before the final page. But that’s all okay, because whatever their not-quite flaws, German journalist Jan-Philipp Sendker‘s novels somehow manage to provide a rare, cleansing catharsis. Besides, what’s a little loss of sleep when you can float through the rest of the day?

When Julia left her older brother U Ba in their father’s small village in Burma, she promised she would see him again “within a few months.” But almost a decades passes, and suddenly Julia finds herself unable to give an important presentation at her law office: an insistent voice in her head sends her running out of the meeting, the building, and soon enough, her high-powered city life. Her ties to Manhattan are virtually none: her engagement is broken, she’s estranged from her mother and brother, and her single best friend is not enough to tether her.

She arrives unannounced in Kalaw, where U Ba is ready with open arms. Only he fully understands about the voice, the black boots, the terror, the warnings. And together they begin a journey of discovery that will lead them to a woman and her two sons, and eventually towards forgiveness and redemption.

Julia’s first journey to Burma revealed her father’s left-behind past and bonded her to a half-brother she never knew she had. Just as her father followed his heart home, Julia is called back by a desperate stranger with impossible questions from the other side of the world. “Who are you? … Why do you live alone?  … What are you afraid of?” the disconnected voice relentlessly probes. But before Julia can answer, she must learn in her own heart “what is important” … might I add, surely a life lesson for us all.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012, 2014 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Translation, Burmese, Burmese American, European, Hapa, Southeast Asian

I See the Sun in Myanmar (Burma) by Dedie King, illustrated by Judith Inglese, translation by PawSHtoo B. Jindakajornsri for the University of Massachusetts Translation Center

I See the Sun in MyanmarWelcome to Myanmar, the latest stopover in the bilingual I See the Sun series from internationally-minded boutique press Satya House. This sixth installment again reinforces the series’ focus: as diverse as children’s lives might be in the details, their basic needs for family, nourishment, health, and happiness are the same throughout the world.

Recognized until recently as Burma, Myanmar’s long, devastating history of British colonialism, Japanese wartime control, civil wars, and military occupations has left a country in need of expansive rebuilding. Myanmar is also home to one of the world’s most beloved activists, the 1991 Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who endured two decades of house arrest.

How appropriate, then, to choose a young girl here who begins and ends her day with prayers for peace: “May all beings live with ease …,” she repeats as part of the “loving-kindness chant” that is metta, a Buddhist concept of “planting the seeds of compassion in one’s heart by saying phrases of loving kindness to those around us.” Aye Aye lives near the famed Irrawaddy River, where her father and brother will spend the day fishing. At home, she breakfasts with her mother and grandmother, then shares their meal with the monks who appear outside. She accompanies her mother to the local hospital where her mother is a nurse – clearly this is 21st-century family, as the mother has a modern career, while the fisherman father practices the more traditional trade!

After lunch, Aye Aye plays with a friend before helping to serve tea to a visiting guest. Evening welcomes her father and brother home, when the family can enjoy their evening meal and later a prayer before drifting off to sleep.

Although Aye Aye’s family is blessed with a peaceful life, author Dedie King does not ignore the possible dangers beyond the village: worry is not far from the everyday life of the afternoon visitor whose son “lives far away in the big city.” The context-rich “About Myanmar (Burma)” at book’s end provides further insight into the country’s violent past with a glimpse at some of the current challenges as it transitions toward a fledgling democracy.

The concept of metta, regardless of religious affiliations or backgrounds, is an idea we can all heed. Just as Aye Aye repeats the words throughout her day, we might learn to do the same. No harm, only hope – and loving-kindness, too:

May I/you be safe.
May I/you be happy and peaceful.
May I/you be healthy and strong.
May I/you live with ease.

Readers: Children

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Bilingual, .Fiction, .Translation, Burmese, Nonethnic-specific

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker, translated by Kevin Wiliarty

I think I will forever remember this book, perhaps not so much for the story, but for a single word: a blind young man sitting in the dark with hands running across the pages answers when asked what he’s doing … “Traveling.”

That, I believe, is a perfect literary moment.

But to get the full experience, you should, of course, read the entire debut novel. Long an international bestseller, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats arrives in English translation a whole decade after its native German publication. The title’s arduous journey Stateside as told by author Jan-Philipp Sendker, who was both American and Asian correspondent for the German newsmagazine Stern, is well worth a read.

Heartbeats begins with Julia, a young hapa Burmese American woman from New York, who arrives on the other side of the world in search of news about her father, a wealthy, powerful lawyer who disappeared four years ago without a word to his family. A single, unfinished letter has brought her to this remote Burmese village, to a local teahouse where she is surprised by an older man, U Ba, who seems to know far too much about her, who dares to ask, “‘Do you believe in love?’”

Over the following days, U Ba tells Julia a haunting story about a young boy, Tin Win, who is abandoned by his mother and raised by a caring neighbor. He loses his eyesight, but through his other senses gains a whole new world. Sent to the nearby monastery to study, he meets the young daughter of one of the temple staff, a girl whose crippled legs have never stopped her from living her life fully, whose beautiful heartbeat Tin Win recognizes immediately. The two are fated for eternity, even as their lives take separate paths.

For Julia to reunite with her estranged father, she must come to understand her relationship to this lovers’ tale, and to recognize the many different kinds of love – all true, sincere, lasting – that bind heartbeats together forever.

With Valentine’s Day just looming, this ‘little-novel-that-could-and-did’ is poised to hit bestseller lists sooner than later. The story’s simple (dare I say … blind?!) trust in the everlasting power of love guarantees Heartbeats‘ sweetness will last far longer than the empty calories of even the very best heart-shaped confections.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2002, 2012 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Translation, Burmese, Burmese American, European, Hapa, Southeast Asian, Southeast Asian American

Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins

Inspired by three years of living in Thailand with her family and visiting refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border, Mitali Perkins’ latest novel follows the lives of two boys on opposite sides of a war they have inherited.

City-educated Chiko feels compelled to apply for a government teaching position in hopes of supporting his mother while the two wait for news of his doctor father who has been imprisoned for resisting the Burmese government. When he goes to city hall to apply, he’s abducted with other young boys and taken far into the mountains to be trained as a soldier. Chiko’s academic lifestyle has not prepared him for the physical challenges of fighting life, but he makes quick friends with homeless orphan boy Tai whose street smarts just might save them both …

Tu Reh takes over the story’s narration midway through, as he must decide the fate of the seriously injured Chiko. Tu Reh is a Karenni boy soldier, a member of one of the many ethnic tribes that challenge the rule of the corrupt Burmese government. Out for his first mission with his hero father, the group finds Chiko is the only survivor of a mine blast. Tu Reh’s father quickly bandages Chiko, then puts his fate into his son’s hands – take him to the nearby healer and save his life, or leave him to die.

Both Chiko and Tu Reh are mere boys, learning as best as they can amidst inhuman, unjust conditions not of their making. But somehow, someone has instilled them with morals and goodness strong enough to counter the fighting and hatred, regardless of the imminent threat to kill or be killed … indeed, while these children have inherited war, they’re the only hope of somehow, someday ending the violence.

Perkins adds a pertinent end chapter, “About Modern Burma,” which warns of the unfortunate situation of the majority of the Karenni people even now. In her “Author’s Note,” she wisely asks her readers the toughest questions, “What would you do if your mother was hungry and your only option to feed her was to fight in the army? What if you saw soldiers burning your home and farm while you ran for your life?” In spite of such tragic, horrifying experiences, both Chiko and Tu Reh manage to find their human spirit beyond vengeful reactions … others in Perkins’ story certainly do not. She gently but encouragingly offers resources to those who “want to promote peace and democracy in Burma or help refugees fleeing from that country” at www.bamboopeople.org.

Read Chiko’s and Tu Reh’s story. Learn how young Nya Meh learned to forgive the worst atrocities a young girl could ever face and chose instead to heal others. And how Chiko’s father never forgot the kindness of his childhood Karenni friend. And how grandfather implores the hot-headed others, “If we give way to hatred, we won’t be any better than our enemies.”

Join in. Let peace start today, one reader at a time …

To check out Mitali Perkins’ many other titles on BookDragon, click here.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2010

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, Burmese, Indian American, Southeast Asian

I Live Here by Mia Kirschner, J.B. MacKinnon, Paul Shoebridge, and Michael Simons

i-live-hereA genre-defying four-book documentary that captures the raw lives of refugees surviving war in Chechnya, the deadly sex-trade along the Burma/Thai border, globalization in Mexico, and AIDS in Malawi. Sometimes, the jaw just drops in utterly devastated awe at the loss of humanity in the world …

Review: “TBR’s Editors’ Favorites of 2008,” The Bloomsbury Review, November/December 2008

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2008

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Burmese, Thai

The Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle, translated by Helge Dascher

burma-chroniclesWith amazingly effective simplicity, artist Guy Delisle takes you to Burma through an ex-pat’s perspective. He arrives with his wife, a Médecins San Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) aid worker, shortly after the devastating 2004 tsunami, who has a real job to go to. Meanwhile, Delisle is in charge of their young son, and together they explore their new surroundings, both mundane (the heat!) and enraging (the Burmese regime).

Review: “TBR’s Editors’ Favorites of 2008,” The Bloomsbury Review, November/December 2008

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2008 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, .Translation, Burmese, Canadian, Southeast Asian

The River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma by Thant Myint-U

river-of-lost-footsteps1Interweaving his own multigenerational family history, Thant thoughtfully presents the troubled story of his homeland from ancient times to its colonized modern legacy. Thant’s grandfather, U Thant, figures prominently in the title, once a small town schoolteacher who eventually serves as the Secretary-General of the United Nations in the 1960s.

Review: “In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Month: New & Notable Books,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2007

Readers: Adult

Published: 2006

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Burmese

From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey by Pascal Khoo Thwe

Land of Green GhostsA touching memoir that traces the life of a young man from a tribal village in Burma. Thwe comes of age amidst political and economic turmoil, from his experiences as a student rebel and surviving the Burmese jungles as a fugitive, to his departure for England where he is admitted to Cambridge University and graduates with distinction. Nonfiction winner of the 2002 Kiriyama Prize.

Review: “New and Notable Books,” AsianWeek, November 29, 2002

Readers: Adult

Published: 2002

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Burmese, Southeast Asian

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh

Glass PalaceA startlingly complex novel, The Glass Palace opens with a literal bang, as British cannons thunder over the noise of a busy Burmese marketplace in 1885. A historical work that sweeps over a century through Burma, Mandalay, and India, Palace introduces Rajkumar, an 11-year-old orphan presciently named “Prince” by his dead mother. As the British storm Burma, overtaking the famed Glass Palace, home of the final Burmese king, Rajkumar has a chance encounter with Dolly, a 10-year-old royal servant. Years later, as a man made wealthy by the Burmese teak trade, Rajkumar seeks and marries Dolly.

While the first part of the novel reads like a major epic – you can just imagine the violin scores and the hero riding off in the sunset! – the second half turns intellectual and overtly political, almost didactic with characters like Arjun, an officer in the British Army, the product of the mighty British Empire cloning themselves in Indians who are only Indian in color and name. Arjun is in sharp contrast to his fellow officer Hardy, who, in spite of his ironic nickname, is the less polished, the less Anglicized, even defective version of the Imperial clone. But then it’s Hardy who’s ready to desert the Empire and free India from British rule.

Not surprisingly, when Ghosh was recently named the Eurasia regional winner for the 2001 Commonwealth Writers Prize, he asked that his name be withdrawn, due to objections he had about the classification of books like his under the term “Commonwealth Literature,” explaining, “[I]t is completely unlike any other literary term (would it not surprise us, for instance, if that familiar category ‘English literature’ were to be renamed ‘the literature of the Norman Conquest’?).” He’s got quite the point there, not to mention a matching sense of humor to go with!

Review: “Bolo! Bolo! Tell Me! South Asian writers move into the literary spotlight,” aMagazine: Inside Asian America, June/July 2001

Readers: Adult

Published: 2001

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Burmese, Indian, Indian American, South Asian, South Asian American, Southeast Asian

The Coffin Tree by Wendy Law-Yone

Coffin TreeA young woman, the daughter of a powerful political revolutionary, and her half-brother flee their native Burma following a political coup and arrive in New York, ill-prepared to cope with their new lives as near-penniless refugees. Haunted by a life filled with desperation, both sister and brother face great tragedy.

A powerful first novel confronting alienation and overwhelming mental illness. The sparse language is especially effective and haunting.

Review: “Asian American Titles,” What Do I Read Next? Multicultural Literature, Gale Research, 1997

Readers: Adult

Published: 1983

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Burmese, Burmese American