Irrawaddy Literary Festival is the first literary festival in Myanmar and is held from February 1 to 3. It is a great chance to Myanmar authors and fans to interact with international writers. Many of the discussions were happening at the same time so sometimes it was difficult to choose as I wanted to attend both discussions.
On the first day, I arrived at the Inya Lake Hotel before 10 am. The first thing I noticed as I got off from the taxi was a group of people circling around something. I got closer and found that Monument bookstore was selling some English books for 1,000 kyats each. Most of them are used books but are still in pretty good conditions so it was really worth buying. I wanted to pick some books myself but I only brought 10,000 kyats with me and I didn’t know how much I might need to spend for lunch.
Bookworms scrambling to get good books
Monument was also selling other books especially by the authors who are coming to the literary festival. The sales girl explained that the customers can buy these books and ask the authors to sign them. When I saw Sayar Thant Myint U’s “River of Lost Footstep” book, I regretted not bring my own copy. It was being sold for 14,000 kyats, which is not so bad because the last time I asked for the price of that book at Myanmar Book Center, it was around 16,000 kyats. I thought it was too expensive and my online friend gave the book to me as a gift when she visited Myanmar in December.
River of Lost Footsteps being sold at Monument
The opening ceremony was held at the Sunset Terrace and the first session started at 10:30 pm. I wasn’t interested in the first session so I just look around the place. I immediately saw Myanmar Book Center’s stall and went over to check it out. The bookshop was giving another book buffet where customers can buy paper bags worth 10,000 kyats or 20,000 kyats and pick as many books as they want as long as they fit in the paper bags. Again, I regretted not bringing more money to spend.
Book Buffet at Myanmar Book Center
At another stall, I saw some metal figures of General Aung San, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Thein Sein. A woman who was in charge of the shop said those figures are sold for $25 each while other smaller ones are $10. According to her, these metal figures can only be bought at the gift shop at the Inya Lake Hotel. I would love to collect these figures but the prices were a bit expensive for me.
Metal figures of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, General Aung San and President U Thein Sein
The second session started at 11:30 am and I attended the discussion about “Translation and Adaptation”. This discussion was conducted in Myanmar language by Myanmar authors who are from the field of translation. At first, I must admit that I was bored to death listening to the presentations because they were quoting famous translators from the Sar Pay Beik Man book, which contains term papers the author submitted for the translator seminar in 1967. No offense to the presenters, but I have practically memorized most of the words written in some of the term papers while doing a thesis on translation last year. I only became interested in the topic during the questions and answers session because the audience started discussing about the use of ‘thu ma’ (she) in Myanmar writing.
In the Myanmar language, we don’t really use ‘she’, ‘her’, or ‘hers’ as pronouns. We only have non-descriptive pronoun ‘thu’ to describe both male and female. However, there has been frequent use of ‘thu ma’ in the media and translated novels, short stories, etc. So, conservatives of the Myanmar language, particularly the older generation, disliked it a lot. They often quote how famous author Journal Kyaw Ma Ma Lay never mentioned the word ‘thu ma’ in her novel although it was titled “Thu Ma”. It was an interesting topic and I would have liked to hear more, but when I heard sounds of people clapping next door, I suddenly became aware that I was late for the next session.
For the next session, I went to listen to a very interesting topic by Sudha Shah and Sayar Thant Myint U. It was about King Thibaw, the last king of Myanmar who was exiled to Ratnagiri, India. The room was quite packed and I noticed that there were more foreigners in the room than local people. There weren’t any seat left but most of the people were still standing in the room and listening to the presentation. I stood still the whole time and recorded the presentations so I couldn’t take any photos.
Sudha Shah said she spent 7 years researching about King Thibaw and his family after he arrived at the royal residence in Ratnagiri. She said she was inspired by Amitah Gosh’s “The Glass Palace” to do this book and she was surprised that nobody has done a research about the king. She explained about her book using the slideshows and I felt sad that some of the items shown in the photo slideshows were in the possession of foreign museum although they had originally belonged to the royal family.
Sayar Thant Myint U with the only surviving granddaughter of King Thibaw (Photo: Sayar Thant Myint U’s Twitter)
There’s more to write about this subject but I don’t want to bore my readers with long and winding passages. Perhaps I’ll write more about this subject after I get the chance to read this book. I tried to find it at the bookstores at the festival, but it’s not available. Sudha Shah said famous author Sayar Nay Win Myint will translate this book in Myanmar so it’s good news for the Myanmar readers. This author has also translated “The Glass Palace” a few years ago.
Sayar Thant Myint U and Caroline Courtauld from “The Future of Our Heritage Building” discussion
I also attended “The Future of Our Heritage Building”, “Blogging and Literature”, and half of “Writing under Censorship and the Future of Free Speech” in the afternoon. I won’t go into details about them because my post is already long enough. However, I do want to say that the session about blogging made me do some self-reflection about what I’ve been writing on my blogs since 2005/2006. I realize that I’m still nothing after all these years and people won’t ever describe my blog as a blog worth reading. Nowadays, I’m a little ashamed to call myself a blogger because I rarely write often.
I’ll write more about my experiences on the second day and the third day later when I have time.