Sombre Blue Mist (နှင်းရိပ်ပြာမှောင်) by Maung Shin Saw (မောင်ရှင်စော) is a moving story between a boy named Maung Maung and Hninn, his next door neighbour nearly 20 years senior to him. Along with the background stories of student movements and 1988 Uprising, it is a mixture of soul-stirring and blood-boiling read.
From the first chapter, the reader will learn that Hninn had passed away. Throughout the book, Maung Maung told his past with Hninn reminiscently; how they met, how she disappeared, how he found her again years later, and how he lost her again. Despite the age difference, Maung Maung and Hninn were inseparably close since they were young. It was more of a platonic relationship between them. For Hninn, things were pretty alright in her life although it can be pretty oppressive at home sometimes. One unfortunate event took her life in a different turn and she left home hoping she could run away from the troubles but series of tragedies continued to follow her.
Another salient part of this book was Maung Maung’s university student life. From the demonetization of currency notes (25, 35, and 75 Kyat notes) in 1987 and early democracy protests in March 1988 which later lead to 8888 Uprising were told through Maung Maung’s perspective. How then regime handled the situations with extreme cruelty was told vividly. Several names of prominent political figures and students activists are featured, too. Maung Maung’s participation in student movements were sharply described as the writer himself was involved in 1988 uprising. His first hand experiences gave unparalleled narrative to the story.
Since author is also a poet, his proses are poised and expressive. He remorsefully recounted the life Maung Maung encountered with kaleidoscopic narrative and meticulously poetic proses. Not just the misery Hninn had had, the adversity students and people suffered in the uprising are poignantly depicted. These two parts are relatively different. However, the writer merged them craftily and it coalesced into a compelling story. In my personal opinion, through these two stories, Maung Maung’s wounds become more visible and his resounding pain is heard.
Not sure you have noticed, I have a habit of translating the title of Burmese novel to English when I post the review of it here. No one asks but it’s just my feeble attempt to do literary translation. Half of the time, it was quite alright, I guess. For this one, it’s pretty much of an issue particularly with the word Hninn. In Burmese, နှင်း (Hninn) can have variety of meanings such as snow, mist, dew, etc. In Myanmar (Burma), snow can be seen only at the northernmost part. The other high mountain regions mostly sleet or have an occasional freezing rain. However, the word ‘Hninn’ is interchangeably used to describe these various events. I’d like to believe that the place mentioned in this story isn’t a place that would probably snow in Myanmar. Hence I consider ‘mist’ is a better choice of word than ‘snow’.
Then I struggle with the word ‘ရိပ်’ which means shadow or shade. We know that when light passes through snow, most of the time it absorbs red and yellow hue, and that is why its shadow is blue or its vicinity is more like in cold tone. Similarly to the mist, I guess. Although it is not opaque, we usually see cool tones when it comes to mist. (I could be wrong.) I was torn between Sombre Shade of Blue Mist and Sombre Blue Mist. But the former sounds awkward or unpretty in my opinion so I chose the latter, Sombre Blue Mist. The word sombre can be regarded as dark or gloomy in colour and also as dolefully oppressed. I think it will be self explanatory on the story’s melancholic plot.