On the flight home from Asia after a 5.5-week trip, I decided Myanmar would be my next destination.
Other than what George Orwell wrote, I knew nothing about Burma, now called Myanmar. Things are changing in Myanmar. Perceptions outside are changing as well. Salvaged by war and reigned under militarism, Myanmar, a deeply wounded and fractured multi-ethnic society, is working through its “democratic transition”. To me Myanmar is the most mysterious country in Southeast Asia. For the past two decades western writers and readers have focused their minds on the brutality and cronyism of the dictatorship.
My trip in Bangkok sparked my interest in Myanmar. I brought home some books that chart the tumultuous history of the country.
Golden Earth: Travels in Burma by Norman Lewis. Account of his visit in the 1950s. It is a bittersweet portrait of the then-optimistic, now-lost land – before communist incursions and tribal insurrection shattered the dream.
The Burman: His Life and Notions by Sir George Scott. Scott served as frontier officer for three decades at the end of the 19th century, but his enduring legacy is as collector and sympathetic chronicler of the old ways in a country “where people are small and ghosts are big”.
‘A Hanging’ by George Orwell. It’s actually a short story but more moving than Burmese Days. Orwell marks the preciousness of human life and the heartlessness of power.
From the Land of Green Ghosts by Pascal Khoo Thwe. Thwe is a native of Shan State. His mesmerising biography stretches from his grandmother’s creation stories to civil war and a chance conversation about James Joyce that leads to a new life in Britain.
Freedom from Fear and Other Writings by Aung San Suu Kyi. It’s no longer a banned book. Few women in public life have suffered more for their beliefs than Aung San Suu Kyi, and inspired so many people by their example. “Concepts such as truth, justice, compassion are often the only bulwarks which stand against ruthless power,” she once wrote.
The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma by Thant Myint-U. Another ex banned book. For 200 years, Thant Myint-U’s forefathers served Burma’s royalty. His grandfather rose to become UN secretary-general. This remarkable family story is woven into Burma’s history in a work that is moving, lyrical, shocking – and essential for anyone wishing to understand the country emerging today.
Under the Dragon: A Journey Through Burma by Rory MacLean. It looks like a good read which provides an inside to Burma’s culture, people, landscape and daily lifestyle including its Golden Land’s history told in a beautiful story.
Myanmar, hope to see you soon.