I met Vanessa at one of those Yangon’s networking sessions accompanying a report launch back in late 2013.
Though I could instantly tell her sharp mind from our very first meeting at the crowded British Club bar, I had no idea then that Vanessa had been working on a manuscript the entire time. After three years of interview sessions, tape transcribes, writers blocks, and many frustrated evenings of staying in to Skype with her editor through flimsy Myanmar Internet, Vanessa has finally made her manuscript available to public on Amazon earlier this month.
This newly published book A Burmese Heart recounts a personal journey of one woman – Vanessa’s grand mother – born and married into a political family during turbulent times in modern Myanmar history. Raised as the daughter of Myanmar’s first modern Prime Minister and wife of one of the Thirty Comrades, Tinsa Maw Naing shares her stories of adventuring in Rangoon as a child, exiling to Cambodia as a new mother and befriending socialite inmates in the infamous Ye Kyi Aing prison as a devoted wife linked to an underground movement.
Too often, history is viewed through men’s eyes both domestically and internationally. It is often too easy to overlook the personal and political experience of women such as Ma Tinsa Maw Naing as mere props in historical accounts. It takes agency to share stories and speak up in this fashion.
Vanessa did a reading of a few chapters from her work at TS1 Gallery last year, at an event full of personal memories, nostalgia and transitions. I have yet to lay my hands on a copy of this book, but judging from this reading event, I would totally read this book.
Again, I make ZERO commission on this book – Become a Facebook fan of A Burmese Heart here, and download it to your Kindle here. Myanmar Book Center will distribute the book locally soon. Enjoy an excerpt below.
“There is a fable going back before the time of the Buddha, when the first kings ruled this country. We were a poor people then and there were other kings desiring to fight us for our land, so the Burmese prayed to the gods for a favor. They answered our prayers and granted us not swords, but the hearts of gods to conquer our enemies. The young king who ruled during that time decided to use his power in his first battle, his heart beating so loudly and fiercely that the earth split and mountains shattered, trapping the invading armies. He continued to conquer his wars but he also grew weaker each time, his young man’s body no match for the strength of a god’s heart. The king collapsed on the eve of his most important battle, not dying from an enemy’s blade but from exhaustion and misunderstanding his own power. Now what do you think this phrase means, a Burmese heart?”
“That the hearts of gods are not meant for mortals,” I whispered.
“Right. It also means that we as a people, and especially you, are blessed and cursed with great strength. You must be sure to use it wisely and sparingly, ” May May cautioned. She left me alone with this knowledge, the room silent except for my jumping pulse.