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Book Reviews
  • Saffron Shadows and Salvaged Scripts
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  • Myanmar: Burma in Style
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  • Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads
  • Where China meets India
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  • State of Vaccination
  • The Road to Wanting
  • What Everyone Needs to Know
  • Under Running Laughter
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  • 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
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  • 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.

    Review by Patricia Herbert:

    First published in 1991 (and reprinted, with minor revisions, in 1993), this revised and updated second edition of Martin Smith's much acclaimed political history of Burma includes a new concluding chapter (chapter 21) entitled The 1990s: Deadlock or the Dawning of New Realities?. All followers of the scene are aware of the country's current political stalemate or deadlock and many readers may be tempted to turn first to this final chapter in search of a prescription for resolving Burma's many urgent problems. But Smith wisely refrains from offering any quick-fix solutions or predictions, stating merely that in the final analysis it must and will be the peoples of Burma that decide their political destiny. His new chapter gives a balanced and realistic assessment of the 1990s - independent Burma's fifth decade of political impasse and conflict - and concludes that while the future is increasingly in the new generation's hands, it is also vital to reflect on the lessons of the past.
    Nov 99
    Burma - Insurgency and the
    Politics of Ethnicity

    by Martin Smith
    Hardback: £50.00, US$69.95
    Paperback: £20.00, US$29.95
    (Society members: £15.00 / $24.00 inc P&P)
    544 pp - Maps etc.
    Publisher: ZED BOOKS
    7 Cynthia Street
    London N1 9JF
    Tel: +44 (0)0171 837 8466
    Fax: 0171 833 3960
    Zed Web Site:
    Indeed, it is precisely in Smith's presentation and reassessment of Burma's complex past that the strength and merit of this book lies. The emphasis Smith places and the level of detail he provides on the national minorities and the still unresolved problems of ethnic insurgency and lack of national unity is unsurpassed by any other political history of Burma.

    The result, based on extensive research and interviews with many leading participants, is an outstanding major study of the complexities of the long-running wars between the government, the Communist Party of Burma, the Karen National Union and myriad other ethnic and regional movements. His first chapter entitled The Burmese Way to Stagnation and the Crisis of 1988 has great impact, dealing as it does with the dramatic events of that momentous year, and acts as a springboard to the re-examination of the many complex causes which had brought Burma, in Smith's words, to the edge of such bloodshed, despair and disaster.

    In a further twenty chapters, Smith charts the rise of modern political parties in the British colonial and Japanese occupation periods, examining the roots of political conflict and insurrections in the parliamentary era and the Ne Win era, as well as politics in the 1980s and 1990s including the aftermath of the Communist Party of Burma's collapse in 1989, the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy, the student movement, the 1990 general election and the continuing grip on the country of the military regime (formerly the SLORC, now known as the SPDC). The helpful list of Acronyms and Abbreviations (pp. xi-xiii) has been revised for this new edition to include new groups such as the DKBA (Democratic Karen Buddhist Army) and the USDA (Union Solidarity and Development Association) and a third chart added (pp. xvi-xvii) on Status of Armed Ethnic Opposition Groups, 1998 which lists the main ceasefire organizations (in order of agreement) and the non ceasefire forces and their leaders.
    Smith pulls off the difficult feat of presenting a balanced appraisal of a most sensitive and contentious subject while not mincing his words as to the urgency of change. There is, he writes, a mounting array of new social problems that underpin the country's collapse to one of the world's ten poorest. Over one million inhabitants have been displaced from their homes; Burma is the world's largest producer of illicit opium; environmental problems are grave; and the country has one of Asia's most alarming HIV/AIDS crises .... But, with the universities repeatedly closed, the question remains where the next generation of qualified leaders and personnel will emerge from.

    All in all this is an indispensable work for any serious student of modern Burma's volatile political history.

    NOTE - The publishers of this book have offered a 25% discount to Britain-Burma Society members.

    BURMA 1942:
    The Japanese Invasion
    by Ian Lyall Grant
    and Kazuo Tamayama
    Zampi Press
    6 St Martin's Square
    PO19 1NT
    400 pages
    32 maps, 67 photos
    HB. ISBN 0-9521083-1-3
    £25.00 inc UK p&p
    plus £3.00 postage outside UK.
    Review by John McEnery:
    This superb military history, using much new information from Japanese sources as well as British, breaks fresh ground as an authoritative and balanced account of Japan's invasion of Burma in January 1942.

    The principal author, Major General Lyall Grant, opens by presenting the geo-political and strategic considerations which led to a fatal British military weakness in Burma. When the Japanese, with some help from Aung San's Burma Independence Army, proceeded to exploit this weakness with great speed and verve, the British, despite some last-minute reinforcement, notably by 7 British Armoured Brigade, were incapable of stemming their relentless advance. The result was the longest fighting retreat ever undertaken by British arms.

    General Lyall Grant took part in this retreat as a Major in the Bengal Sappers. His meticulous research in both British and Japanese records enables him to describe with great clarity the almost continual series of battles involved. The quite excellent detailed maps covering every engagement make it easy for the reader to follow the bold Japanese tactics and the British reaction to them.

    In this epic campaign the raw British infantry force, although greatly helped by British armour, was no match for the Japanese. Yet it was by no means overrun. Surviving units, especially 17 Indian Division, retreated into India as a veteran fighting force. Over two years later, suitably reinforced, they would inflict crushing defeats on the Japanese Army which led to the reconquest of Burma and to Aung San's army changing sides.

    This book has to be the definitive military account of the Japanese invasion and is a major contribution to the history of World War II. It is also an astonishing example of British/Japanese co-operation in military history.

    Review by John Wall:
    Military historians and veterans will welcome the news that a library has been established in London for books and papers on the war in Burma, 1942-1945. The library owes its origin to the enterprise of members of the Burma Star Association and the Burma Campaign Fellowship Group, the latter having been founded in 1990 and which has done so much to improve understanding between Japanese and British veterans. In collecting the material, the net was spread far and wide: in addition to British publications there are books from the United States, India, Burma, Australia and Canada.
    May 1999:
    Burma Campaign Memorial Library Catalogue
    by Gordon Graham MC MA
    SOAS Library Book Shop
    Thornhaugh Street,
    Russell Square,
    London WC1H 0XG
    The problem of finding a home for the library was solved when the London School for Oriental and African Studies offered to house the collection. Financial backing came from the generous contributions of the Great Britain Sasawaka Foundation. To date there are some 750 items in the form of books and typescripts and this number has been categorised in several sections, illustrating the many aspects of the campaign, e.g. the Japanese invasion, the Arakan, the Burma Road, Medical Services, the Chindits. The narratives range from the broad sweep provided by official histories to the everyday details of personal experience. There are novels, poetry, letters. Bearing in mind the number of memoirs published over the years privately or in small editions it is greatly to the credit of these enthusiasts that they have acquired so much.

    One section lists a few pictorial histories of the campaign. Perhaps the library could add to this aspect by starting a collection of photos? Taken alongside the material already available in the British Library and the Imperial War Museum, it looks as if London will be a prime source for future researchers into that once-neglected theatre of war. ãOld men forgetä, as the saying goes, but now old campaigners will have plenty of opportunity to refresh their memories!

    NB - at present the whole collection is not housed as a single exhibit; but the books that make it up can be consulted individually without charge, in the Reading Room of the School of Oriental and African Studies library.
    Burma Bride
    by Sylvia Molloy
    Published by Molloy Publications
    Obtainable from
    (+44) 1462 627986
    p+p (UK):£1.75
    FIRST IMPRESSIONS are important, and for me this book is not helped by its cover design, title or photo quality. Yet the text offers a fascinating study of life in the Shan States at the end of the British period.
    Burma Bride is autobiography - covering 1940-1947. The war took a little over two years to get from England to Burma - and that short time spans most of the book. In 1940, Sylvia Molloy was 26 - rushing out to Burma to get married before war closed the sea lanes.
    Her husband-to-be, Patrick Molloy, was a Burma Frontier Service Assistant Superintendent, posted in the Shan States. It was a life lacking in the comforts of civilization - but there were compensations. Patrick was constantly on the move, in this area of so many different and colourful peoples, and Sylvia went with him. To her, everything was new. The book is a cascade of impressions and experiences, told with life and humour. Fortunately her mother kept the letters she sent back to Wales every week, and the author has let her former self do most of the talking.
    The Sawbwa's daughters looked gorgeous; they both had blue loongyis made of a material like lamé but with the effect of lace. Though we danced with our own partners most of the time, the people were jolly and sociable and danced the Paul Jones, buzzoffs, and old-fashioned waltzes (always my favourite dance).
    All my cooking was done in our home-made oven, and it was remarkably successful. The only awkward thing about the oven was that the outer framework was made of wood. When the inner zinc plating became red hot the wood began to smoulder, so I had to stand by with a tin of water.
    In five minutes the ascending track was one stream of rushing water and from the banks above poured fresh streams to add to it... On the fourth march we climbed 2,300 feet, a very steep ascent all the way, also still a little slippery. Going up to that altitude was cold, but the exercise made us sweat. We arrived at a village where there was no flat space at all. We sat out in the sun to keep warm, at an angle of about 30 degrees.
    The Wa's danced the most peculiar dance I have ever seen; it was more like an acrobatic feat than a dance. Three couples sitting opposite each other banged together pieces of bamboo trunks or rice pounding sticks, while the dancer had to leap between the sticks with great agility to avoid being caught in them. The couples beat the sticks to rhythm and if the dancer kept perfect time, he could just manage it.
    Another great do-it-yourself man was the Sawbwa. The bamboo knitting needles he made were beautiful, with ivory knobs. He also did wonderful metalwork. He was not at all interested in such things as politics.
    A painting, "Kachin girl"

    Simple episodes weave together into a tapestry of life in Shan States just before the war - as seen by the thinly-scattered British officials. One of Patrick Molloy's key jobs was to buy up opium from villagers, to prevent it getting into the hands of criminals - and he was always waiting for his reimbursement to come through from the Government. Sylvia was an artist, and the book includes a number of water-colour studies she did of village people.

    At the end of 1941 and start of 42, the Molloys kept fooling themselves that the Japanese would never come to their isolated backwater - but in the end they too were forced to join the rush to India. After the war they came back - but the assassination of General Aung San, which Patrick could hear from his office in the Secretariat, made Rangoon "an unhappy place", and the young couple set off for a new start in South Africa.(DBW)