When Karen Connelly goes to Burma in 1996 to gather information for a series of articles, she discovers a place of unexpected beauty and generosity. She also encounters a country ruled by a brutal military dictatorship that imposes a code of censorship and terror. Carefully seeking out the regimes critics, she witnesses mass demonstrations, attends protests, interviews detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and flees from police. When it gets too risky for her to stay, Connelly flies back to Thailand, but she cannot leave Burma behind.
Connellys interest in the political turns more personal on the Thai-Burmese border, where she falls in love with Maung, the handsome and charismatic leader of one of Burmas many resistance groups. After visiting Maungs military camp in the jungle, she faces an agonizing decision: Maung wants to marry Connelly and have a family with her, but if she marries this man she also weds his world and his lifelong cause. Struggling to weigh the idealism of her convictions against the harsh realities of life on the border, Connelly transports the reader into a world as dangerous as it is enchanting.
In radiant prose layered with passion, regret, sensuality and wry humor, Burmese Lessons tells the captivating story of how one woman came to love a wounded, beautiful country and a gifted man who has given his life to the struggle for political change.
The Dinner Party
I said that I would find the place myself. I wanted to walk through the city, into Chinatown. "No, thank you. I do not want a ride, it's all right."
The pause at the other end of the phone was so long that I thought the line had gone dead.
"Are you still there?"
He asked again, "You... want... to walk?" Judging from the hesitating formality of the telephone exchanges we'd had earlier, I'd decided that my volunteer guide, San Aung, was over fifty, and a dedicated worry-wart.
"I do want to walk. Please tell me again the name of the restaurant. And how to get there."
He did. He described it all carefully. He said, "But it can get dark in the evenings. You will be all right alone? I do not want you to get lost."
How dark could it possibly get in a city? I said, "There is no possibility that I will get lost."
I set off gamely enough. The light coaxes me out of weariness and into intoxicating newness: the...
I am complimenting Burmese Lessons when I say that it is a book that is difficult to define. It is a travel narrative of the finest quality. Its pages contain both history and biography. Most of all, it is the memoir of Connelly's fierce love for both a person and place. This book meets my definition of a page-turner. It is literary nonfiction of great substance and beauty.
(Reviewed by Stacey Brownlie).
Full Review (890 words).
During the time covered in Burmese Lessons, the military government in Burma was known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). This name has since been changed to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), but the behavior of the government has not changed. Since 1962, the ruling military regime has severely restricted the freedom of its citizens. Freedom of speech, the guarantee of a fair trial, and the protection of children from hard labor are just a few of the rights absent in Burma. Media is restricted to only state-approved outlets, such as this English language newspaper.
Burman opposition groups have grown more organized over the years since the student protests in 1988 and the...
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