An Interpretation of Exile

I write because I must

In 2007, after I had worked extensively as an interpreter between Burmese/Myanmar and Swedish for quota refugees from Burma/Myanmar who came to Sweden, I got an idea for a fictive, future novel called The Escape to Myanmar. I was fascinated by the reactions of these refugees who had come to a country so different from what they were used to. On his first day in Sweden one man told me that he felt like he was born anew. He knew nothing about the new country he had come to and everything seemed so strange to him, he said. Perhaps that is why he had a hard time to learn the language and adapt to the new society? Perhaps that was why he then sought safety in his own group and in his own cultural traditions instead? For others, it was easier. Some settled quickly and learned the new language and the new customs easily.

In The Escape to Myanmar I wanted to explore these individual differences in a group of people who arrive to a new country of the same reason, namely as refugees. Why do some of them adapt to the culture and learn the language, whereas others do not? Instead of writing about Burmese/Myanmar refugees who have arrived to Sweden, and whom I have observed closely, I decided to write about Northern European refugees who arrive to Myanmar because of a war in Europe. The reasons for this are many. One is that I have the obligation to observe silence in my work as an interpreter. As one of my work leaders once said: “An interpreter can never write his or her memoirs”. But this is of course not true. Even an interpreter can write her memoirs, but only as fiction. To only change the names of the people and places would not feel enough, so I felt it is better to reverse everything and change the scene. The further away from reality I am from my work as an interpreter, the more honest can I be when I write, I think. The other reason for changing the setting of this refugee story is that I wanted to “show and don’t tell” how life as a refugee can be in a strange and different country. To describe the reality of those who actually lives as refugees is telling. To make the Western reader become the refugee in the story is showing how it it instead of just describing it. I want the reader to feel the reality of being in exile.

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