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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Not Out of Hate

Ma Ma Lay

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To purchase Not Out of Hate

Title: Not Out of Hate
Author: Ma Ma Lay
Genre: Novel
Written: 1955 (Eng. 1991)
Length: 240 pages
Original in: Burmese
Availability: Not Out of Hate - US
Not Out of Hate - UK
Not Out of Hate - Canada
La mal-aimée - France
  • Translated and with a Preface by Margaret Aung-Thwin
  • With an Introduction by Anne Allott
  • With an Afterword by Robert E. Vore
  • Edited by William Frederick

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Our Assessment:

B : a bit too obvious, but has its appeal

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Not Out of Hate is set in Burma in the 1930s, when it was still under British rule; by the end, however, the British have been driven out, and the Japanese have begun their occupation. The story centres around Way Way, still a teenager when the story begins. Her mother abandoned the family years earlier and became a nun, and as Way Way's other siblings have married and moved on with their lives she is the only one left to care for their somewhat sickly father. Because she had to shoulder greater responsibilities she could not finish school, as she would have liked to, but her devotion to her father is great and she manages, given the circumstances.
       U Po Thein, Way Way's father, is in the rice business, and the action starts when a new man is sent up from Rangoon. They are expecting an Englishman -- which would be big news: "Way Way had never in her life seen an Englishman up close" -- but instead U Saw Han turns out to be Burmese. But a very Anglophile Burmese.
       U Saw Han moves into the house next door, and lives in English style, making a great effort to have left Burmese ways behind him. The contrast is made clear when U Po Thein and his family are invited over: they are told to keep their footwear on (at home they always remove it when entering the house), dinner is served with silverware (they eat with their hands, and have no idea how or when to use a fork or spoon), etc.
       Way Way falls for the guy -- and he becomes enamored of her. But from the start it's a vaguely ill-starred romance, as what U Saw Han feels is pity, seeing the young woman have to shoulder so much responsibility in her household. U Saw Han is also twenty years older than her and, despite being Burmese, blind to many local traditions and expectations, seemingly oblivious, for example, to the impropriety of walking alone with Way Way (whereas she is terrified they will be seen, as it would be seen as scandalous). But a romance develops, and they get married.
       Not Out of Hate is an allegory -- a very obvious allegory. Way Way represents Burma, U Saw Han colonial master England. U Saw Han means well, but his treatment of Way Way is entirely paternalistic. He always thinks he knows better, even as he rides roughshod over her actual needs. Typically, he forces her to drink milk because it is healthy, despite the fact that Burmese don't drink milk (and, because she is lactose intolerant, the stuff makes Way Way ill).
       Being excessively protective, U Saw Han also limits her contact with her father, worried that she'll catch what he has (presumably -- and then clearly -- tuberculosis). Since she loves Dad very much, this crushes her spirit -- especially when she eventually can't be there to tend to him when he really needs it. Way Way eventually also becomes pregnant; again U Saw Han means well in how he treats her and what he demands of her -- from only allowing Western medicine, to the food she eats -- and the results are, of course, disastrous.
       As the title suggests, U Saw Han is acting 'not out of hate'. The guy really means well, and his affection for Way Way is genuine -- but:

     Way Way was never allowed to make her own decisions and had to be careful not to oppose U Saw Han. She knew she had to go along with whatever he thought, no matter what. It was as if this were his little kingdom and he was the supreme ruler. She had to like whatever he happened to like, and dislike whatever he happened to dislike. He dominated her body and mind, her thinking, her whole existence.
       In his paternalistic over-protectiveness -- and particularly his unwillingness to let Way Way decide or do anything herself -- he crushes the spirit out of her and eventually kills her. Yes, there's no subtle symbolism here.
       Typically: "So great was U Saw Han's desire to get her well that he gave her no freedom at all". It does not work out well for either of them, and the comparison to the relationship between England and Burma is fairly straightforward and obvious, Ma Ma Lay suggesting things worked out exactly the same there.
       This isn't a particularly novel romance -- with its overbearing if well meaning husband and submissive and misguidedly dutiful wife --, but it is competently done. Some of the characters may seem somewhat extreme -- Way Way in her dutiful obedience, U Saw Han in his obliviousness to both what his wife needs and to Burmese tradition -- but the remaining cast of characters -- Way Way's family, in particular -- makes a solid supporting cast. Domestic politics, in which Way Way's brother is involved, are also brought in -- and the collapse of English rule nicely overlaps with U Saw Han's expectations and hopes all being dashed.
       The supporting material is of some interest, though beyond the useful footnotes most aspects of the novel are so obvious that there is little need for much of a gloss. Still, Robert Vore's Afterword, comparing the novel to Orwell's more familiar Burmese Days, is helpful.
       An interesting picture of colonial times, Not Out of Hate contrasts local and foreign culture particularly well, and even if it feels like Ma Ma Lay is using a sledgehammer to drive her message home, the harm even the best-intentioned paternalistic colonialism causes is certainly effectively conveyed. Rather dark and sad, and very obvious in its allegorical intent, Not Out of Hate remains an interesting document, and a decent (anti-)romance.

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Not Out of Hate: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Burmese author Ma Ma Lay lived 1917 to 1982.

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