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Thread: Literature of Laos
24-06-09, 03:57 PM #1Paknam Web Online Staff
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Literature of Laos
Literature of LAOS
Similarities in culture and language make Thai and Lao books accessible to readers of both countries
By: Story ANCHALEE KONGRUT
Dear readers, can you divulge the names of your favourite foreign authors? How about titles of books you've fallen in love with recently?
Samples of Lao works of fiction, a few of which have been translated into Thai over the past decades.
The answer might be longer than this article - or at least long enough to confirm how the younger generation of Thais has gone cosmopolitan in outlook and choice of reading. But what about these names: Douang Deuane Bounyavong, Houng Aloun Danvilay or Boonsern Saengmaee? No, this is not a trick question. These are names of foreign writers too, although they sound very Thai.
Yes, the three names belong to famous writers from the Lao PDR; all of them have won a prestigious SEA Write award over the past few years.
Their names may seem mysterious to us; ironically, these writers know the breadth and depth of Thai literature, more so than our knowledge about theirs. A number of Laotian readers have dug into our literature the same way Thais breathe Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Milan Kundera or Haruki Murakami.
"I grew up reading Thai books, say, works by Chart Kobjitti and Prapassorn Sevikul," said Houng Aloun Danvilay (whose real name is Othong Khaminxou), a government officer at the Lao Culture Ministry and this year's SEA Write awardee.
Douang Deuane Bounyavong
According to Othong, most Laotians can read Thai: "I would say Thai literature has had a large impact on Lao readers. Indeed, Laotian teenagers are fans of Thai teenage love novels. They read Thai books, watch Thai soap operas and listen to Thai songs."
Othong visited Bangkok early this year for the launch of his SEA Write-awarded book titled Xin Mai Pouen Kao Kao (That Old Silk Skirt), which was translated into Thai by Jintrai, the pen name of Thai northeastern author Pramote Naijit, and published by Nanmee Books.
According to Pramote, there has been a significant change in the Thai perception of Laos and Lao literature over the past five years. When he first took up the task of translating works by Laotian writers 20 years ago (among them the ancient Lao epic Tao Hoong Tao Joueng), his friends warned him no Thais would be interested in reading them.
"But after years of following Westerners, more and more Thais have started to look around themselves. They may just want to know more about themselves and their neighbours," Pramote reckons.
The greater interest in Laotian culture corresponds with a stronger diplomatic relationship and a large increase in investment across the Mekong. (Two bridges have been built so far, the first one in Nong Khai province over a decade ago). Two months ago, Thailand opened the first railway service between Nong Khai and Vientiane. Two more bridge constructions are in the pipeline at the border check points in Nakhon Panom and Chiang Rai while the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) and energy conglomerate Banpu have invested in a couple of billion-baht energy projects.
Houng Aloun Danvilay
Luang Prabang has become a must-visit destination with Thai tourists - popular enough for a Thai film-maker to film Sabaidee Luang Prabang (Good Morning Luang Prabang) in Lao and chose a Laotian actress to co-star with Ananda Everingham, an Australian-Laotian actor who grew up in Thailand.
After all, the previous lack of interest among Thais towards literature of neighbouring countries is something worth contemplating. Suchart Swadsri, editor of literary magazine Chor Karaked, said most Thai writers including himself are usually more knowledgeable about Western writers than about writers from neighbouring countries.
"I dare say I learn about the literature of Southeast Asia from what has been translated into English," Suchart said.
Last year, Suchart's Chor Karaked turned to look eastward; a cultural trip was arranged to meet some Laotian authors. In a rare move, the magazine's award now caters to works submitted by Laotian writers as well.
It is not only Thai writers who have started to take Lao literature seriously. In 2007 Vietnam launched the so-called Mekong Award, with attractive financial rewards and a commitment to translating the winning works into English. Interestingly, so far the award involves only works from Vietnam, Lao PDR and Cambodia, three countries with similar political backgrounds.
Despite being branded as sister countries, with similar language and culture, the relationship between Thailand and Laos has not always been smooth, plagued by a series of wars dating back to the early Rattanakosin period over two centuries ago, and then by colonisation, which turned Laos and most Southeast Asian countries into colonies of Western superpowers. Since the communist Pathet Lao took over Laos in 1975, the ideological gulf has widened considerably, with Thailand standing at the opposite end of the political spectrum.
Another set of problems relates to the poor state of "literature" in Laos itself.
According to Othong, there is a virtual absence of "real professional writers" in Laos. "You cannot make a living from writing. You must have another job to earn a living," said Othong, who himself works at the Lao Culture Ministry. Printing technology is not fully developed and books published in Laos are generally considered rather expensive: The average prices are around 60 to 80 baht, compared to the median salary estimated to be about 3,000 baht a month. The print run of each book is 1,000 to 2,000 per title, and it takes four to five years for a publisher to sell all the copies.
In effect, literature in the Lao PDR has suffered from the long years of political instability.
French colonisation forced locals to become Francophiles and there was a serious hiatus in the preservation of local literature from the past. "That was regrettable," said Pramote, who also wrote an in-depth analysis on Lao literature in the Chor Karaked magazine's March-June edition.
According to Pramote, it was not until 1944 that the first Lao novel was printed in vernacular language: Praputtaroop Saksit (Sacred Buddha Image) by French-Laotian Somjin Pierre.
After the liberation, the content of Lao literature, often supervised by the government, became pro-socialist. In fact, books that have won the SEA Write awards hardly touch on politics, and most of the writers are government officers, including Othong.
But Othong said he begs to differ.
"This book [Xin Mai Pouen Kao Kao] is about politics too, but it is people's politics. We [Lao writers] do not have to write about the structural problems of politics. Books with political content may come from individual experience or viewpoint ... My book touches on the politics of the value of things in life.
"But if politics for you is about fighting, this book might not be political enough," the soft-speaking author jibed.
Currently, Lao writers are experimenting with a new literary genre called "Jintanakarn Mai" or New Imaginary, which is said to be about the exploration of the processes and aftermath of social transformations.
In Xin Mai Pouen Kao Kao, for example, Othong examines the effects of capitalism and modernism on common people in rural Laos, how they reshape the social values and bring about a host of problems such as the spread of cigarettes, alcohol and gambling.
Like Othong, the 2005 SEA Write awardee Douang Deuane's works do not criticise the government. Most of her works are dedicated to protecting the environment and traditional ways of life. An example of her poems reveals a lovely, simple narration of life in pristine nature couched in Buddhist values.
The literary infrastructure of Laos is at the start-up stage, according to Douang Deuane Bounyavong, who also received the prestigious 2005 Fukuoka Award and is an owner of Dokked Publishing.
Dokked publishes translations of world-class literature such as French and Russian masterpieces. It also produces a literary magazine for the family. However, it should be noted that the business has managed to stay afloat in part thanks to financial subsidies from foreign donors such as Japan. The publishing house also works with the Laotian government to improve the reading habits of the young by providing thousands of schools in the country with bookcases filled with children's books that aim to teach children good values. Every now and then, Dokked also arranges workshops and book illustration classes for writers and children.
According to Douang Deuane, there is a lamentable lack of novels and stories of any substantial length in the local language.
A writer is like a boxer, she said, and there must be a regular match for them to practice the craft of boxing.
"But there are not many long stories in the Lao PDR because no one will publish them. Without space for published works, people will not read as a result," she said in an interview in April, when she gave a talk on Lao culture at Thammasat University.
Whatever the condition of literature in the Lao PDR is, there is no better time for Thais to try the taste of Lao books.
"Thais should read more Lao books," she reiterated in fluent Thai.
Francophone and also fluent in English and Russian, she is in a perfect position to talk about the dismal culture gap especially vis-a-vis reading habits.
"We are lucky enough to share a similar language. Thais can listen to Lao and read some Lao without much difficulty and vice versa. Thais can read Lao books and understand the full flavour and meaning without difficulty because our culture is so similar. With Western literature, there will always be some cultural gaps and greater language barrier as often words are lost in translation," she said.
"When you understand the literature of a country, the rest will soon follow," she said.
20-01-10, 10:03 PM #2
Re: Literature of LAOS
=) Hope to get some good Laotian reads this trip...
21-01-10, 11:24 AM #3
Re: Literature of LAOS
=) Anyone with any recommendations on any good English readings to get in Laos about Laos?
11-02-10, 08:53 AM #4
Re: Literature of LAOS
=) You may like to visit this place call Monument Books. It has a large selection of French and English magazines and not to forget books on english, French and Lao. To get to the bookstore go down Rue Samsenethai and turn right onto Rue Nokeokoumane. Monument books will be on the right side of the road next to Vayakorn Guest House.
Tel: (021) 243-708 | email@example.com | www.monument-books.com
Open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 8pm
Sunday 9am to 6pm
07-03-10, 07:38 AM #5
Re: Literature of Laos
The story is about how the narrator was compelled, at the father's deathbed, to help him fulfil his newly-revealed last wish of making amendments by tracking down his 2nd wife and their daughter from a marriage when he was sent for re-education at Attapeu during the war, but whom he stopped contacting after returning to Vientiane after his major wife (narrator's mother) forbade him to do so.
The narrator's father last guilt and regret was that this woman and their daughter had been very poor, rural people and he had let them down alot by leaving them to fend for themselves all these years, especially as this woman had saved his life once when he was bitten by a snake.
This bittersweet story was very heartwarming in the end when it was revealed that the narrator's father's (who passed away soon after making the last wish) dying fear was unfounded when the narrator gradually found out that his 'minor' mother and half-sister were independent and doing well by working hard together as a loving mother-daughter pair - and they were actually the owners of the little roadside foodstall the narrator and his colleagues had been patronizing and full of praises for the entire period that the narrator was on a work trip in Attapeu.
16-08-12, 10:35 AM #6Forum Member
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Re: Literature of Laos
Is there online bookstore in Thailand that sells Lao novels ( in Lao Language ) ?
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