Portraits birmans (Burmese Portraits)

Burmese Portraits – Nineteen Views of the Shwedagon
Short stories, Arléa, 220 pages, 2012

A taxidriver wandering about in the streets of Yangon in search for wild dreams. An alchemist questing for the Absolute. A too conscientious housemaid. A couple of loving fishmongers. A young activist obsessed by Aung San Suu Kyi. A photographer caring about her independence. An avant-garde artist. A transvestite.
What is the link between those nineteen views, those nineteen lives ? Fisrt a shared gravitation around the Shwedagon, the great pagoda of Yangon, omnipresent, benevolent. But also a country living despite the enduring memory of the generals and the repression, with the protecting presence of Aung San Suu Kyi, whose recent release is resonating with those destinies echoing a regenerating wind.

What was written about it

« Here is a lovely collection of portraits taken live in this magnificent country of Burma. (…) The book says bluntly what is blunt, tenderly what is tender, beautifully what is beautiful and with cold anger what deserves it, all with empathy.The detachment of the esthete would be a sin in that country. But never any indignated emphasis. Reality well told is enough. »
Jean Hourcade, Asie 21.


« Every day around eleven thirty, Han Zan makes a brake in a small teashop close to the stadium. There, he meets up with a few other taxi men. Like him, they have had several lives before exercising this profession. They take a quick lunch and then play draughts with cigarettes as stakes. Streams of betel-redden saliva spurt out in the gutter while a small plastic-covered TV set uninterruptedly broadcasts some fashionable songs, subtitled for karaoke. When Han Zan is fed up with draughts, he lies down on a wicker deckchair and takes a short nap, his eyelids still feverish from having stared at the road. He sets off around one o’clock. It is the warmest hour, to which most of his colleagues renounce, whose old banger does no more than his have air-condition. To drive without goal, the spirit away, has become a habit to him. He drives around in the city born by the traffic, like a floating timber, his sight sometimes attracted by a furtive movement or this feminine gesture he never goes tired of dissecting by which a woman, head down, puts back her thamein by separating one tail with a wide gesture of the right hand while the left hand immobilizes the rest of the fabric before the ultimate adjustment. The indicators are not working anymore: when he wants to make a turn, he puts a hand out of the window and, according to the admitted code, swings around his index finger in the space like a magician who would like to make a rabbit appear.
When the offices come out, at five, he is in full operation. Two hours later, he is exhausted, with painful eyes, numbed head. When he cannot drive any longer, he parks his taxi under a kapok tree, in a curve of Shwe Gon Taing street. Beyond lake Thwaysay the pagoda is there, massive, vibrating in the hot air, beaming of a orangey sparkle against the night. He falls asleep. He wakes up ; it is still there, golden stain on his retina, indelible burn. He drops off to sleep again ; it is still there, with the persistence of an illusion. »
© Arléa, 2012.

Cover of the translations into foreign languages : english