February Letter To Reader


Greetings. I’ve just returned from a week in London, where I was promoting The Lizard Cage, which is to be published this month by Harvill and Secker. I had several different interviews with BBC, the most enjoyable of which was Excess Baggage, presented by John McCarthy (who was a hostage in Lebanon, years ago, and is an excellent journalist—not only because he seemed to really like the book). Another thorough and profoundly intelligent interview was with the journalist Isabel Hilton, who has her own radio program. And I did a couple of readings: one at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the other at the British-Burma Society (which is housed in the very grand Medical Society Building in Cavendish Square. I felt like I should have been getting married or at least meeting the Queen. Sadly, she did not show up for the event.) I am amazed by how much interest there is in Burma in Britain, compared to Canada. Of course this is natural, considering England’s role in Burma’s past, but still . . .

I also had a chance to reconnect with my old Burmese teacher from SEASSI (Madison, Wisconsin) and to see dear Anna Allot, a fine translator of Burmese who helped me with the novel. And to meet SWT for the first time; years ago, he translated my Burma poems into Burmese; then we had the poems printed up in Burmese and sent into Burma. It made me think of how very long I’ve been doing Burma stuff, thinking and writing about the country—and made me remember the mad-dash panic to get the poems typed up and printed into booklets before I left for Rangoon. Oh, Aye Aye Khaing and Aye Aye Lwin, and the women from the Burmese Women’s Union in Mae Hong Son—all of them helped me do it.

What I would really like to do now is find a way to condense and translate The Lizard Cage into Burmese, print up a few thousand copies, and send those into Burma, so that people who don’t read English will have a chance to read the novel. I was able to discuss this with a few people in London, and perhaps . . . soon . . .

I went to London with my husband Robert Chang and small son Timo. It was our first time travelling together, and three month old Timo was brilliant: a born adventurer! We had been intimidated by the prospect of travelling with such a little guy, but he was so good, and enjoyed meeting all the new people. He is at a stage where smiling is his main form of communication. He is a wiggling, squirming grin, my child.

Now I need to get to work on my Humber College students’ writings, and some writings of my own. I have decided to finish my non-fiction book of Thailand and Burma. For a long time, I’ve been humming and hawing about it, because I want to just keep going with the novel I’ve started, too, but I can’t get the non-fiction out of my head. It keeps dangling there, a world that is half-translated but not yet complete. Going to London helped me make this decision; I’m not sure why. I guess seeing enthusiastic Burmaphiles did the trick.

Of course, how long it will take to finish the book is a big question. With Timo so little now, it’s not as though I’m writing all that much. I want to enjoy this time, while he’s so small and delicious. I work a two or three half-days a week, but that seems very little at the moment. Sometimes it’s just enough to check email and tidy up my burgeoning office.

There is so much to do for a little baby. And the more I do, the more I enjoy it. Usually. I have my moments with the little screamer . . . But a space has opened up in our lives for this new person. It’s rare now for me to get frustrated or upset that I no longer have the time I used to have. Curious: for years, while I was living abroad, eating and drinking up the world, I didn’t have much of a domestic life, and I longed for one. I had good friends with domestic lives—I could sup at their tables and play with their kids and then go back into my adventures. Now I have my own table, my own husband, my own child—and how rich it is; how sweet and nourishing, how multi-layered and enjoyable. The mundane itself seems alive, necessary; time is now more precious than ever; and love is an element as ever-present as air.

I know that the definition of being human lies at least partly in domesticity, this making-safe, this place to eat and sleep and make love and talk and raise children. In war, in violence, in places of trauma (be they countries or living rooms), this is the first thing to go: the safe and reliable place, the solid threshold from which both adult and child can step out, safely, into the world. Home, of course: the place where a child can grow, but for where the self expands and deepens, too. It feels like I have only begun my work as a writer, partly because finally I have a home, a solid, satisfying place to live and work.

I would like to write more about this but I must go. I’m hungry. We're making dinner . . .