Summary and book reviews of The Trouser People by Andrew Marshall

The Trouser People

A Story of Burma in the Shadow of the Empire

By Andrew Marshall

The Trouser People
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2002,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2003,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

Part travelogue, part history, part reportage, The Trouser People is a vivid account of two adventures, a century apart, into the heart of Burma.

Sir George Scott was a largely-forgotten Victorian adventurer who hacked, bullied, and charmed his way through uncharted jungle to help establish British colonial rule in Burma. Born in Scotland in 1851, Scott was a die-hard imperialist with a fondness for gargantuan pith helmets and a bluffness of expression that bordered on the Pythonesque. He spent years mapping the lawless frontiers of this "geographical nowhere," the British Empire's easternmost land border with China. Scott was also the author of The Burman, a book that is in print to this day, a photographer of rare sensibility, and the man who introduced soccer to Burma.

Modern-day Burma (Myanmar) is a hermit nation misruled by a brutal military dictatorship and numerous drug lords. Its soldiers, like the British colonialists before them, are nicknamed "the trouser people" by the country's sarong-wearing civilians. Inspired by Scott's unpublished diaries, Andrew Marshall retraced the explorer's intrepid footsteps from the moldering colonial splendor of Rangoon to the fabled royal capital of Mandalay, then up into the remote Shan hills, the tribal heartland where Scott had his greatest adventures and closest shaves. Wonderfully observed, mordantly funny, and skillfully recounted, The Trouser People is an offbeat and thrilling journey through Britain's lost colonial heritage-and a powerful expose of Burma's modern tragedy.

Prologue
The Thai–Burma Border

Philip the Miracle Monk rummaged at length in the mysterious folds of his orange robes and retrieved a trilling mobile phone.

'Excuse me for a second,' he apologized, but I was getting used to it. Philip's robes had been ringing all morning. Hairless, podgy and swaddled in robes, Philip reminded me at times of very large, very bright baby. I had met him in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, soon after dawn, and it was immediately obvious that he was a highly unusual monk. For a start, most monks were not fanatical fans of the heavy-metal group The Scorpions at least not as far as I knew. Monks weren't usually called Philip either. His Buddhist holy name was as long as his arm, and was bit of mouthful for foreigners, so he had chosen an English name inspired by an electrical appliance. 'I liked the sound of it,' he told me. 'It sounded very modern.

Nor are monks supposed to know as much about troop movements as Philip seemed to: the Shan ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

All of the author's adventures will hold readers' interest, but his difficult journeys to tribal villages of the Shan Plateau, through drug-trafficking territory where head-hunting only ended in the 1970s, are particularly enthralling...this is a valuable firsthand look at areas and living conditions in a country relatively unknown in the West. Avid readers of travel literature will love it.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Travels, both madcap and somber, into the terra incognita of Burma. . . . Marshall emerges from these pages as an extraordinary intrepid traveler and trustworthy narrator whose finely detailed account will want to make readers hop on the next plane to Rangoon to help overthrow the generals' corrupt, narcodollar-fed regime. Excellent from first word to last.

The Bloomsbury Review - Lew Lefranz,

[Marshall] is an adventurous traveler, but is also determined to observe indigenous tribes facing a shaky future that is threatened by the ruling military forces on one side and the ruthless power of regional drug lords on the other . . .Those with the inner zeal of the committed traveler will at least imagine the possibility as they experience in words the lush and dramatic environment characterizing this enigmatic place.

Time - Brian Bennett

Marshall uses the tale of Scott's travels and football's rise as the architecture for a witty account of life in today's diverse and suppressed Burma . . . . Casually weaving relevant political and cultural history into his wry note taking on what he sees in this largely inaccessible country, Marshall gives us a rare glimpse into the jukes and jibes-both on the field an off - of Burma's mysterious balance of power.

Reader Reviews
Peter Armstrong

Having read and tyhoroughly enjoyed the book The Trouser People, I can recommend it to anyone who enjoys travelling in post colonial coun tries in South East Asia. Parts bring to mind Paul Theroux's Railway Bazaar and his journey north of Mandalay by...   Read More

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