Smile As They Bow/ posted in: Reading Smile As They Bow by Nu Nu Yi
Published by Hachette Books on September 1st 2008
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“As the weeklong Taungbyon Festival draws near, thousands of villagers from all regions of Burma descend upon a tiny hamlet near Mandalay to pay respect to the spirits, known as nats, which are central to Burmese tradition. At the heart of these festivities is Daisy Bond, a gay, transvestite spiritual medium in his fifties. With his sharp tongue and vivid performances, he has long been revered as one of the festival’s most illustrious natkadaws. At his side is Min Min, his young assistant and lover, who endures unyielding taunts and abuse from his fiery boss. But when a young beggar girl named Pan Nyo threatens to steal Min Min’s heart, the outrageous Daisy finds himself face-to-face with his worst fears.”
I bought this book several years ago when I was trying to read books set in as many countries as possible. I had never seen any other books written by a Burmese author. I never got around to reading it though. I finally decided to get to it during the #diverseathon readathon. I’m glad I did.
I didn’t know anything about nats or the Taungbyon festival to honor these spirits in Myanmar. Worshippers, mostly women, come to the festival to promise the nats favors and offerings if they help their family in the coming year. The book opens with beautiful descriptions of some of the people coming to the festival – a pickpocket lamenting the poor pickings this year, a poor woman, and a rich woman. Once the stage is set, the story moves to Daisy Bond and Min Min.
Daisy is a natkadaw or spirit medium. He pretends to be possessed by a spirit to bestow blessings in exchange for cash. The women around him will hear about it if they don’t offer him enough cash too. Min Min is his “husband.” He acts as a manager for both Daisy’s career and house as well as being his lover. Daisy is very insecure about his relationship with Min Min. Daisy is in his 50s and Min Min is a teenager. Min Min also isn’t gay. Daisy bought him from his mother to serve this role in Daisy’s life. He knows Min Min isn’t happy and is afraid that he is planning on leaving. His paranoia is serving to push Min Min farther and farther away until he does make plans to get away from Daisy.
Here’s a video that shows what the festival looks like now.
This book is beautifully written and draws you into the festival that you’ve probably never heard of.