Winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, a lyrical meditation on family, place, and inheritance
Names for Light traverses time and memory to weigh three generations of a family’s history against a painful inheritance of postcolonial violence and racism. In spare, lyric paragraphs framed by white space, Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint explores home, belonging, and identity by revisiting the cities in which her parents and grandparents lived. As she makes inquiries into their stories, she intertwines oral narratives with the official and mythic histories of Myanmar. But while her family’s stories move into the present, her own story—that of a writer seeking to understand who she is—moves into the past, until both converge at the end of the book.
Born in Myanmar and raised in Bangkok and San Jose, Myint finds that she does not have typical memories of arriving in the United States; instead, she is haunted by what she cannot remember. By the silences lingering around what is spoken. By a chain of deaths in her family line, especially that of her older brother as a child. For Myint, absence is felt as strongly as presence. And, as she comes to understand, naming those absences, finding words for the unsaid, means discovering how those who have come before have shaped her life. Names for Light is a moving chronicle of the passage of time, of the long shadow of colonialism, and of a writer coming into her own as she reckons with her family’s legacy.