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(The Vanishing Tribes of Burma contains a stunning collection of 200 colour photographs of some of Myanmar'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.)
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
AUNG SAN SUU KYI
The Voice of Hope
Published by Penguin Books
"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 Myanmar 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 Myanmar. 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 Myanmar? 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 Myanmar 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 Myanmar - 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)
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,
(or dial 0181 899 4036)
Abroad: add £15.00
for courier service -
order from Penguin web site.
(or order at your local book shop)
A World Overturned:
A Burmese Childhood
by Maureen Baird-Murray
3 The Lanchesters,
162 Fulham Palace Road,
A World Overturned quite took me by surprise. This is not a niche book, but a life experience. That awful/enticing brush of worlds (Myanmar and English) makes it all the more compelling.
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)
But entertaining, this book certainly is, and very true of Myanmar. 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 Myanmar 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 Myanmar in the tradition of Shway Yoe - quizzical yet sympathetic, and occasionally really moved, in the face of experiences like Bagan. (DBW)
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,