Not Out of Hate: a Novel of Burma

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  • Topic: History of Burma, Burma, Aung San
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Not Out of Hate: A Novel of Burma.

By MA MA LAY. Translated by MARGARETAUNG-THWIN. Edited by WILLIAM H. FREDERICK. Athens: Ohio University Center for International Studies.

Not Out Of Hate was Ma Ma Lay’s fifth and perhaps best novel published in Burma in 1955, as a result, she was conferred with a government literary prize. The translation of the novel which was initially published in Burmese into English rendered scholars and readers alike a glimpse into pre-world war II Burmese society as reflected through a contemporary Burmese author. The appearance of an indigenous perspective on this period (1939-1942) in Burmese history allows the readers to account for the turbulence occurring in the country, as epitomized by the vivid accounts in the novel of cultural discrepancy between the West and East in which imperialism, nationalism and moral corruption are all important factors.

The essence of the novel tells of a tale of how a bright but naïve young girl from an ordinary Burmese Buddhist family is attracted to an older Westernized Burmese man; of their marriage and the eventual unhappiness in the union due to the rift of cultural clash between their contrasting ways of lives, which ends with the death of the female protagonist.

The story is set in the real-life town of Moulmeingyun in Lower Burma, near the Irrawaddy River delta. In the early chapters, the readers are given a detailed picture of an extended Burmese family. The story’s main character, Way Way, is a young seventeen years old woman who lives at home with her aunt and ailing father, running the household and overlooking the accounts of the family’s rice brokerage business. Way Way’s older sister, Hta Hta is married to a government doctor, while her elder brother Ko Nay U is vehemently anti-British and is involved in the nationalistic movement. Way Way’s mother had left the family to become a nun several years ago but remains in contact periodically with the family. As we start to unravel the complex family dynamics prevalent within the Burmese society, the book opens, as preparations are being made for the arrival of a new rice trader representing a British firm (8). The new person who arrives however, not an Englishman as was expected, but a Burmese by the name of U Saw Han who is completely westernized (11). Although it is very evident that the ideals and life of the U Saw Han and Way Way’s family differ significantly, Way Way is very much impressed with the gait and style of U Saw Han and they eventually get married despite the misgivings of her family (46). It soon becomes quite clear that the marriage is an error as Way Way becomes a virtual prisoner in her own house and her daily routine is dictated by her husband (150). When she suffers a miscarriage and then later contracts tuberculosis, U Saw Han becomes even more protective of her. The title Not Out Of Hate alludes to the central irony of the story, for U Saw Han acts as he does not out of hate but rather undying love, albeit a perverse kind of love which reduces Way Way to a mere possession without a will of her own (164).

In Not Out Of Hate, despite the absence of any Englishmen, the British presence is subtly implied through the character of U Saw Han who at one point is described by Ko Nay U “ as having exactly the same mannerisms as an Englishman” (39). Moreover judging from his too-direct and too-formal way of dealing with others coupled with his domineering and possessive nature, U Saw Han seems to epitomize the very essence of imperialism (167). Hence, if one considers U Saw Han to symbolize British imperialism, then the novel becomes highly figurative: for U Saw Han’s house is the setting in which he (the British) subjugates Way Way (the Burmese), making her a virtual prisoner (colonized populace). But what makes it more ludicrous is the fact that U Saw Han’s house actually belongs to Way Way’s family, which is ironic since home is the place to offer comfort, safety and...
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