RANGOON — During his last visit to Burma, he had a chance to interview Aung San Suu Kyi. As a result, he was followed everywhere by secret police.
But now in 2012, fifteen years later, Amitav Ghosh, the international award-winning author, will have a chance to see someone else when he is in town this month—his readers. No more chases this time, hopefully.
Organized by The American Center Baldwin Library Book Club in Rangoon, a discussion between the 56-year-old Bengali Indian writer and the club members will take place on Nov. 16, according to the library’s director.
“After we learned about his trip, we arranged to read his book ‘The Hungry Tide‘ for this month because we read ‘The Glass Palace‘ a few months ago. We’ve announced to the club members that the writer will be at the discussion. They are excited to see him,” said the director.
Burmese writer and editor Ma Thida (San Chaung), who is also a book club member, is the person who broke the news about the novelist’s Burmese visit to the director.
“As a member myself, I’m aware that other members want to see him in person. For a long time I wished I could arrange a discussion between him and the members. When I learn about his trip, I tipped the information to the library director,” said the writer-cum-editor, who has personally known Ghosh since 2009.
Internationally, Amitav Ghosh is famous for his work in the English language. His 2011 novel “River of Smoke” was short-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2011. In 1997, he won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for “The Calcutta Chromosome,” published in 1995.
But in Burma, he is well known for his 2000 novel “The Glass Palace,” which set in Burma over a span of 115 years and tells the tale of a family and how historical events influenced their lives. A Burmese translation of the novel won the country’s highest literary award, the Burmese National Literature Award, in 2010.
Nay Win Myint, the Burmse translator of “The Glass Palace,” told The Irrawaddy that he “heartily welcomes” Ghosh’s visit.
“It’s great to have a visit from a great writer like Amitav Ghosh,” he said. “He is our guest. If he’s curious about Burma, we have to explain everything to him when we see him at the Indian consulate in Mandalay on Nov. 18.”
Amitav Ghosh told The Irrawaddy via email that it is wonderful that “The Glass Palace” has been well-received in Burma, and he is very excited about joining the book club discussion.
“I am very much looking forward to talking to my readers there,” said the Calcutta native.
He added that during his trip he will be doing readings from “The Glass Palace” at the Indian embassy in Rangoon and at the Indian consulate in Mandalay, and will see his friends in the writing community in Burma.
Aye Say, a 39-year old freelance translator, has been a book club member since it started in 2008. He has read “The Glass Palace,” and said he likes it because “it successfully portrayed the hardship the last Burmese King Thibaw faced in exile.”
“I wonder how he knew this? I will surely ask him when we meet on Nov. 16 how he did his research for this book,” he said.
The American Center Baldwin Library Book Club discussion on “The Hungry Tide” will take place on Nov. 16 from 3:30 -5:00 pm at the Myanmar Institute of Theology (MIT), American Corner, Insein Road, Gyogone, Insein Township. Call 642040, 09420107885 for more information.