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. Written in lyrical, intoxicating prose, Smile as They Bow is, like the works of Arundhati Roy and Ha Jin, an unexpectedly whimsical, illuminating, and above all revealing portrayal of a culture few Westerners have ever witnessed.
Over the past twenty years, Nu Nu Yi has become one of Burma’s most acclaimed authors — and in 2007, she became the first person living in Burma to be nominated for an international literary award. Smile as They Bow was censored for more than twelve years by the Burmese government. It is fitting, then, that this is her American debut.