Names for Light: A Family History (Paperback)
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.
“[A] hypnotic memoir. . . . In lyrical prose, Myint straddles dream and reality. . . . Her poetic narration is indisputably alluring. . . . This serpentine narrative is a thing of beauty.”—Publishers Weekly
“Composed in compressed, laser-sharp interrogations of immigration and prejudice, colonialism and inheritance, Names for Light reads like poetry. . . . In its power, intensity, and visual presentation, Names for Light evokes recent works of Claudia Rankine.”—NPR.org
"Names For Light is itself the "place" where the family’s past – and Myint’s dynamically evolving present — approach each other. The tug and pull of these forces, and the broader awareness of tyranny in the world, comprise an environment for the reader that is both demanding in its multiple vectors and gratifying in its patterning and acute intelligence.”—On The Seawall
“Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint is driving an important autobiographical rickshaw into the twenty-first century.”—Vi Khi Nao
“Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint is one of the most remarkable writers of our time, and Names for Light is a piercing and heartbreaking revelation.”—Janice Lee, author of Damnation and The Sky Isn't Blue
“Myint’s geographies and her syntax will echo inside you like luminous ghosts: opulent and ruthless and profound, like drowned sapphires waiting to be reunited with the wind.”—Lily Hoang