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Planet Burma - Burma Book Reviews 2
Book Reviews
  • Saffron Shadows and Salvaged Scripts
  • Rangoon 1941
  • Abhaya: Burma's fearlessness
  • Myanmar: Burma in Style
  • 30 heritage buildings of Yangon
  • Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads
  • Where China meets India
  • Exodus Burma
  • The Lady and the Peacock
  • Sacred Sites of Burma
  • State of Vaccination
  • The Road to Wanting
  • What Everyone Needs to Know
  • Under Running Laughter
  • Burmese Painting
  • The State in Myanmar
  • Almost Englishmen
  • Return to the Irrawaddy
  • The Pa-O: Rebels and Refugees
  • Kinwun Min-Gyi's Diary
  • Last of the Guardians
  • Great Tey to Rangoon
  • White Butterflies
  • Burma: The Forgotten War
  • Textiles from Burma
  • Kelly's Burma Campaign
  • Trilogy on Anglo-Burmese Wars
  • Curse of Independence
  • Chinthe Women
  • Economic Development
  • Epilogue in Burma, 1945-48
  • Visions from the Golden Land
  • Among Insurgents
  • The Glass Palace
  • Through the Jungle of Death
  • Whispers at the Pagoda
  • Burma '47
  • The White Umbrella
  • Burma: ... Politics of Ethnicity
  • The Art of Burma - New Studies
  • Burma 1942: Invasion
  • Campaign Memorial Library
  • Under the Dragon
  • Road to Mandalay
  • Challenge of Change
  • Burma Bride
  • Vanishing Tribes
  • The Voice of Hope
  • Letters from Burma
  • A World Overturned
  • Dark Ruby
  • Latest reviews are listed at top left.
    Reviewers include Gerry Abbott, Maureen Baird-Murray, Colleen Beresford, Professor Anne Booth, Derek Brooke-Wavell, Evelyn Broughton-Smart, Dr Michael Charney, Patricia Herbert, Noel Holmes, Wendy Law-Yone, John McEnery, Diana Millington, Martin Morland, Philip W Plumb, Lewis Shaw, Dr Thant Myint-U and John Wall.


    (The Vanishing Tribes of Burma contains a stunning collection of 200 colour photographs of some of Burma's best-known ethnic groups. This is a big book - 12 inches by 10 - and a landmark. Would make an ideal Christmas present for somebody, if you can afford it.)

    NOVEMBER 97:
    The Vanishing Tribes of Burma
    by Richard K Diran

    Edited by Gillian Cribb
    With ethnography from Martin Smith

    £40.00 from Weidenfeld & Nicolson
    Orion House, 5, Upper St Martin's Lane
    London WC2H 9EA
    (+44) 171 240 3444
    fax (+44) 171 240 4823
    May 97
    The Voice of Hope
    conversations with
    Alan Clements
    Published by Penguin Books
    Other details as "Letters from Burma" below.

    "Conversations of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi with a former monk" may not sound too exciting; yet Alan Clements has put many questions that others forgot, and thus found the reasoning behind the sound bites. U Kyi Maung and U Tin U also emerge for the first time for an English-speaking audience, as figures in their own right.

    Refreshingly, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi brings Clements rapidly back to earth every time he exaggerates her role or her situation; nor will she accept praise for the host of qualities attributed to her - ranging from courage and integrity to eloquence and linguistic skill. To these I would certainly add compassion, and a sense of humour. But the lady herself is more conscious of her defects than her virtues. She wishes to be seen only as a "trier" - doing what she can in the existing situation.

    DASSK is sometimes energetic in refuting Burmese government criticisms of her and the NLD, and is not slow to speak against abuse of authority and for the people's human rights and democracy. But again, it is Clements who tries to push her into condemnation, and she who insists on taking a reasoned approach - though she does not often have insights to offer into what makes the government tick.

    This book returns several times to the possibility of future reconciliation in Burma. I.e., in the first place, reconciliation between the SLORC and the NLD. This unlikely-sounding prospect is one we rarely hear about in the West, where newspapers are preoccupied with exposing the Myanmar authorities' latest misdeeds. But the NLD has given it much thought. What will be the best course of action when SLORC members are no longer opponents, but partners in planning a new Burma? How can wrongs be righted and new policies introduced while still leaving the SLORC and its associates in a situation that they can accept?

    DASSK and the others are in something of a quandary when airing such issues in public; for their current policy is to keep up non-violent pressure on the government. (Conciliation is no use, they say - U Aung Shwe tried it, and got nowhere.) But they do feel the need to look beyond the combative present to possible cooperation in future. And at one point U Kyi Maung concedes to Alan Clements that it is possible that one of the SLORC generals might end up with a Nobel Peace Prize one of these days. He just wonders why they have to wait so long! (DBW)

    Letters from Burma is the full, award-winning set of 52 "letters" from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, published in Mainichi Shinbun throughout 1996, and many of them already familiar to subscribers of the BurmaNet mailing list.

    These essays again show Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's remarkable literary gift; but most lack specific dates or context. They are beautifully- drawn vignettes of Burmese life and customs; of her own daily life, and of friends, colleagues, children and party gatherings. Most have some sort of political point or moral, but it is stated with elegance and economy. Only in the last few essays - when police action has reached a peak - is the current situation directly addressed; and then, too, it is with great restraint.

    But to take these essays in isolation is to miss their point. Since ASSK's release, a contest has been under way in Burma - important, but uneven as butterfly versus bull. A butterfly can never harm a bull - but the bull can hurt itself, if it tries too hard to win. The Myanmar government, with its military approach to public order and vivid memories of the "chaos" of 1988, looks for sabotage or insurrection behind most NLD activities - and has used police cordons and snap detentions to prevent it. But Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is in a different element: with her the battle is for hearts and minds - and, if the SLORC damages itself gravely enough on the PR front, why should she stoop to trading insults? So she soars clear of harassment and abuse; she lifts an eyebrow in mild surprise at police actions, and pauses to praise a flower or recite a poem. It is a formula that can hardly lose; and this, I believe, is the real function of these letters. (DBW)

    JULY 97:
    Letters from Burma
    by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

    Introduction by Fergal Keane
    Illustrations by Heinn Htet
    Published by Penguin Books
    Paperback only - £6.99
    UK: plus £1.50p&p
    from Penguin Books Ltd,
    Bath Road,
    UB7 0DA
    (or dial 0181 899 4036)
    Abroad: add £15.00
    for courier service -
    order from Penguin web site.
    (or order at your local book shop)
    June 97
    A World Overturned:
    A Burmese Childhood
    by Maureen Baird-Murray

    Constable Publishers
    3 The Lanchesters,
    162 Fulham Palace Road,
    W6 9ER

    A World Overturned quite took me by surprise. This is not a niche book, but a life experience. That awful/enticing brush of worlds (Burmese and English) makes it all the more compelling.

    Maureen Baird-Murray, the respectable English lady, has become a little toddler who idolises the Burmese village girl who is her mother. Every school holiday she goes back to the village, and gladly forgets the few words of English she has painfully learnt at the convent. The years pass - and then the Japanese arrive, and life shrinks in upon itself.

    Don't expect ponderous prose or philosophy. This book could not be easier to read. Events follow each other without interference. And so it convinces - and has power to move. (DBW)

    Dark Ruby's author may be young and blonde, but she embarks on her scatty journey across Burma with all the confidence of a Bill Bryson. Where does ZoŽ Schramm-Evans get the nerve to describe with such humour the appearance and mannerisms of real people she meets?

    But entertaining, this book certainly is, and very true of Burma. Her sympathy for the various ethnic groups she meets is enormous - though she is not above ridiculing Europeans, and any kind of authority. Yes, the Burmese military get their share of stick too - mostly in the form of historical asides.

    Maybe ZoŽ's approach to seeing the country is the most fruitful of all. She travels on her own, making local friends as she goes. When deep-laid plans are frustrated she grabs whatever opportunities she can find. She makes it right down to the Mergui Archipelago, then up to Myitkyina. She tries out various kinds of local magic, but nothing can quell her rebellious lungs and stomach, whose activity provides a generous sub plot

    This is a view of Burma in the tradition of Shway Yoe - quizzical yet sympathetic, and occasionally really moved, in the face of experiences like Pagan. (DBW)

    MARCH 97:
    Dark Ruby
    Travels in a Troubled Land

    by ZoŽ Schramm-Evans
    Thorsons, London (imprint of HarperCollins) -
    Ring (44)141 772-2281 with credit card details,
    or write to:
    Thorsons Mail Order Dept 75R,
    HarperCollins Publishers,
    Westerhill Road,
    G64 2QT