“Ma Le’s Bracelets” by U Win Pe

Ma Le’s Bracelets” is a story plotted around a Burmese husband’s domestic abuse toward his wife. The narrator reveals much more in the beginning about the husband Lay Than’s character: he is Westernized, self-indulgent and abusive. The wife, Ma Le, is revealed more indirectly, shown gradually rather than described outright. The narrator implies her exchange of food with neighbors, as well as her attachment to her bracelets, a family inheritance. When Ma Le’s husband sells the bracelets for money, he forces Ma Le to say that she lost them. Fearing his violence, Ma Le complies, but she can’t stop her tears or her rage from coming out, even if slightly. The story ends on an ominous note, as Lay Than sees his true character revealed in his wife’s eyes, an “I know you know I know” moment. More notably, the story elicits Ma Le’s irrepressible spirit despite her own efforts to quell it for her survival.

The story suggests on a larger level Burma’s indignation over British colonial rule, shaded by Lay Than’s Westernized behavior, and Ma Le, completely Burmese, who acts with grace and dignity, submitting to abuse without losing her humanness. The depictions of Ma Le’s attempts at complicity toward her husband are eloquent and revealing.

Compared to other stories I read recently, “A Husband,” by Prema Shah, and “A Blaze in the Straw,” by Guruprasad Mainali (1), it does not speak as directly to the concerns of women who experience domestic violence, but by framing it metaphorically still evokes the problem of abuse, particularly in post-colonial families. I count it among other South Asian stories that depict domestic abuse in a manner directly or indirectly raising consciousness about the issue.

  1. Hutt, M. (1991). Himalayan Voices : An Introduction to Modern Nepali Literature. Berkeley: University of California Press.
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American, Asian, Southeast Asian literature available online

Links for reading and research in world literature.

American Literature

Gerald Vizenor: Site constructed with the assistance and active collaboration of the poet, Gerald Vizenor. Includes biography links, bibliography, and works online.

The Poems of John Rollin Ridge: A reproduction of the 1868 publication plus fugitive poems and notes, edited by James W. Parins and Jeff Ward.

Layli Long Soldier: Biography and poem “Whereas” on the Poetry Foundation website.

Jane Johnston Schoolcraft: Site designed to accompany The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, edited by Robert Dale Parker.

Suji Kwock Kim: a contemporary Korean-American poet.

Occidental Writers in Asia

Joan Grigsby (1891-1937) Part Two: an occidental poet in Korea revealed through Brother Anthony’s extensive web resources.

Becoming Wu De: A Conversation with the founder of Global Tea Hut: interview relating the background of author Aaron Fisher, who lives in Taiwan and has written several books on tea and spirituality.

World Literature

Postcolonial Theory and Literature – Second Wave: Postcolonial – African, Africa, Studies, and Women: Summary of postcolonial studies by country/region.

Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts: Edited and/or translated by D.L. Ashliman. Exhaustive compendium of fairy tales from around the world organized by common themes.

Korean Literature

Azalea: Journal of Korean Literature & Culture, Volume 1, 2007: Available online at Project Muse.

The home page of Brother Anthony of Taize: Enormous collection of ancient and modern English-translated Korean literature, much translated by Brother Anthony.

The Cloud Dream of the Nine: a novel by Kim Man-jung: Written in or after 1689, about the times of the Tangs of China around 840 A.D., translated by James S. Gale, 1922.

Korean Folk Tales: Imps, Ghosts and Fairies: Collection of Korean fairy tales translated from the Korean of Im Bang and Yi Ryuk by James S. Gale, 1913.

Korean Poetry in Translation: Resources from Harvard University.

Lesson Plan: Sijo in the Classroom: Teaching Korean sijo poetry in a comparative literature classroom.

Korean Literature: Overview of Korean Literature.

Korean Studies: Links to Korean literature online.

The Sejong Cultural Society writing page: Korean short stories and sijo poetry; encourages young American writers to explore Korean culture.

LTI Korea: Literature Translation Institute of Korea; has e-zines available for download, as well as resources about currently published Korean books and translation grants.

Vietnamese Literature

Homepage of Nguyen Phan Que Mai: Author of The Secret of Hoa Zen, contemporary Vietnamese poetry.

A Tale of Three Translations in Vietnamese Poetry: Examining three different translations of a poem by Hồ Xuân Hương, feminist Vietnamese poet (1772–1822).

Burmese Literature

Burmese Literature: Poems, legends and short stories from the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Northern Illinois University.

Win Pe Mya Zin: contemporary Burmese writer’s Facebook page; will need a Facebook account to read his poetry.

Sadaik: blog about literature of Myanmar and its translation by author Lucas Stewart.

Modern Burmese Literature: article in The Atlantic by U On Pe relating information about Burmese literature from ancient times up to the present.

Burma (Myanmar): from Poetry International Rotterdam. Contemporary Burmese poets, poetry and articles about Burmese literature.

Japanese Literature

Gendai Haiku: site about contemporary Japanese haiku poets and poetry.