Traveling on Tuesday — Laos

Laos (officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic)
Population: appr. 6,500,000
Biggest City: Vientiane (appr. 754,000)

Ever since Jessica’s last Traveling on Tuesday post, I’ve been thinking about doing my own ToT and have been trying to decide which country to choose. Well, as it so happens, Jessica and I have a good friend who recently was awarded a fellowship grant to go do research in Laos over the summer, and I thought I would use her hard work as inspiration! I previously had very little knowledge of Lao literature or even non-Lao literature pertaining to Laos*, so this was a good experience for me as well, even if the results are somewhat bare-bones.

Outhine Bounyavong (1942-2000, name sometimes romanized as ‘Uthin Bunny¯avong) continues to be one of the most well-known authors of Lao contemporary fiction; a collection of his stories about life in Laos has been translated into English as Mother’s Beloved. You can read some of his short stories here for free, thanks to the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Northern Illinois University.

Douangdeuane Viravongs (b. 1947, name sometimes romanized as Duangdeuan Viravong), alias Dok Ket (sometimes romanized as Dok Ked), is a prominent female author of Lao contemporary fiction, and is Outhine Bounyavong’s widow. Unfortunately, none of her work appears to be available in English.

Further-unfortunately, while the literary scene in Laos appears to be thriving, especially as a political vehicle, very little native work has been translated into English. There are a small number of Laotian-American and Hmong-American writers such as Bryan Thao Worra and Kao Kalia Yang whose works are gaining recognition, and while their memoirs, poetry, and other published pieces are not quite what I’m looking for here, I’m hopeful that increased exposure of American-published works relating to Laos and other Southeast Asian countries will lead to greater translation and distribution of native literature from those countries. Perhaps in the future–hopefully sooner rather than later–we will be able to read novels by Theap Vongpakay, Chanthy Deuansavanh, or Khamlieng Phonsena in English.

Currently, the lion’s share of writing on and relating to Laos continues to be nonfiction works written by non-native authors, folk tale collections translated and edited by non-native authors (sometimes with the help of Laotian or Laotian-American writers and translators), and the occasional cookbook.

For more information, please see this helpful Introduction to Lao Literature, or this overview of Lao Literature since 1975. Any errors present in the small amount of information here are my own doing.

If you have any suggestions or requests for future entries in Traveling on Tuesday, please speak up in the comments!

*Other than the excellent book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, which details the experiences of a Hmong family living in America with an epileptic child, and which includes a partial history of the Hmong people in Laos and American clandestine involvement in the Laotian Civil War. It departs from the intended area here, as it was written by a white American author and is nonfiction, but it is, I think, a very well-written work that looks at Hmong cultural and spiritual practices from a balanced point of view and which neither patronizes nor romanticizes the non-American side of the story.

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5 thoughts on “Traveling on Tuesday — Laos

  1. This is awesome, Mia! A decently quick looking around doesn’t show anything for me, either. It’s hard to believe that there aren’t *any* Lao novels translated into English! Non-fiction, especially if written by a native author, is probably fine to include, if you deem it so. I did find this link: http://www.thailandqa.com/forum/showthread.php?30060-Literature-of-Laos which I thought was interesting, about the influence of Thailand of Lao Lit and, increasingly, vice versa. Hopefully, Lao literature will become more and more popular around the world! :D

    • I’ve recently moved to Vientiane and have been looking hard for Lao writing. Other than ‘Mother’s Beloved’, there are three other books translated into English that I have found here. Two are (self) published by Dokked Publishing Co. –
      ‘When the sky turns upside down: Memories of Laos’ by Douang Champa and Dokked, 2004 – a collection of short stories,
      and ‘When mother was in prison: A biography of a woman’ by Douangdeuane Bounyavong (aka Dokked), 2009.

      The third book is ‘Freeing Birds’, a short collection of short stories by Bounthanong Xomxayphol, published in 2012 by Laodouangdeuane Publishing House.

      There are also a few slim volumes of traditional folktales.

  2. Pingback: Outfit Post: 3/15/12 « Reading in Skirts

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