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The seven books to read about Myanmar
Our former South-East Asia correspondent picks his guides to a deeply troubled country
(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 15, 2021, a protester holds up a poster featuring Aung San Suu Kyi during a demonstration against the military coup in front of the Central Bank of Myanmar in Yangon. - Ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been moved from house arrest to solitary confinement in a prison compound in the military-built capital Naypyidaw, a junta spokesman said on June 23, 2022. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Jun 23rd 2022


This article is part of our Summer reads series. Visit our collection to discover “The Economist reads” guides, guest essays and more seasonal distractions.

It has become steadily more difficult to find reasons to be hopeful about Myanmar. Elections in 2015 had seemed to usher in a new era of democracy, after years of authoritarian rule. Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition National League of Democracy (nld), became the de facto leader of the country formerly known as Burma. Yet attacks by the army on the Muslim Rohingya people, many of whom were killed or forced into exile, exposed the deadly intolerance of those in power. A military coup in February 2021 made things worse, provoking widespread violence. The economy looks wrecked; by World Bank estimates it is about 30% smaller than it might have been in the absence of covid-19 and the army’s takeover. How to make sense of it all? These seven books go some way towards explaining a land of lamentations.

Picking Off New Shoots Will Not Stop the Spring. Edited by Ko Ko Thett and Brian Haman. Balestier Press; 264 pages; £11.99

It is too soon to expect any coherent account of the coup of February 1st 2021, and the awful events since. Ko Ko Thett, a Myanmar poet, and Brian Haman, an academic, have produced the next best thing, a volume of what they call “witness poems and essays”. These are first-hand, often visceral, accounts of the many anti-coup demonstrations that rocked the country last year, and the consequent military repression; the shootings, beatings, arrests and torture. “The landscape is bloody-fucked,” writes one contributor. The last works of two poets who lost their lives in the anti-coup protests are recorded here.

The Lady and the Generals: Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s struggle for freedom. By Peter Popham. Rider; 496 pages; £14.99

The slight, elegant figure of Aung San Suu Kyi has dominated the politics of Myanmar for more than three decades, even though she has been locked up by military governments for much of that time. The most readable biography of her is by Peter Popham, a British journalist. His first edition, “The Lady and the Peacock”, chronicled her life up to her release from house arrest in 2010; this second edition takes the story up to her landslide election victory in 2015, after which the NLD formed a government. “The Lady and the Generals” captures the spirit of optimism that prevailed until the 2015 elections; long-lasting sanctions were lifted, Western aid poured into Myanmar and Ms Suu Kyi toured the world in triumph. We reviewed this book in 2016.

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Myanmar’s Rohingya Genocide: Identity, History and Hate Speech. By Ronan Lee. I.B. Taurus; 288 pages; £19.99

For all her heroic defiance of Myanmar’s generals for much of her life, Ms Suu Kyi’s international reputation was badly tarnished by her attitude toward the Rohingyas. The army largely forced this Muslim minority out from the country, in 2017. That amounted to a genocide. She has not spoken out for the Rohingyas; perhaps she even shares the prejudice felt towards them by many of her fellow ethnic-Burmans, that they are not a genuine “minority” at all, but merely illegal Bengali migrants. As de facto leader of the country, she even appeared at the International Court of Justice to defend the behaviour of the troops. Ronan Lee has written the most reliable and up-to-date account of the cruelty and discrimination endured by the Rohingya over many years in Myanmar. He shows how the army weaponised religion and ethnicity to cling to power. Ms Suu Kyi gets a gentle roasting too.

The River of Lost Footsteps. By Thant Myint-U. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 384 pages; $19. Faber & Faber; £10.99

For a longer perspective read Thant Myint-U’s thoughtful “The River of Lost Footsteps”. This is part history, part memoir, by the anglicised scion of one of Burma’s most influential families; he is the grandson of U Thant, former secretary-general of the UN. Thant Myint-U is a trained historian and the most helpful part of the book is his fluent narrative of the formation of the Burmese state from ancient times through to the early 19th century when the Court of Ava at Mandalay was one of the most dominant in South-East Asia. Thereafter, however, conflict with the rival empire of British India proved Burma’s downfall. The author is particularly good at showing how the old patterns of monarchical rule were sundered by colonialism.

The Glass Palace. By Amitav Ghosh. The Borough Press; 560 pages; £9.99

For a more imaginative take on the destruction of Burma’s ancient monarchy, read “The Glass Palace” by Amitav Ghosh, an Indian writer. It opens dramatically as British forces storm the Glass Palace of the Burmese kings at Mandalay, the climax of the third (and last) Anglo-Burmese war in 1885. Mr Ghosh follows the last king into exile in British India, where the hours accumulated “like grains of sand until they buried him”. A large cast of characters takes the reader on an intricate tour through familial, colonial and political struggles in India and Malaya as well as Burma up to the 1990s. It is a mini-epic, courageously sweeping through time and place, sometimes funny, often poignant and always wise.

Blood and Silk: Power and Conflict in Modern Southeast Asia. By Michael Vatikiotis. Weidenfeld & Nicolson; 336 pages; £20

If Thant Myint-U provides the historical perspective on Myanmar, Michael Vatikiotis provides the regional context in “Blood and Silk”. The author packs 40-odd years of living and working in South-East Asia into one well-organised volume; Mr Vatikiotis was editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review and has worked as a conflict mediator in Myanmar, Thailand and the Philippines. His book demonstrates that even if Myanmar has failed to throw off the shackles of authoritarian rule, so too have most of its near neighbours. In Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and elsewhere progress towards democracy ebbs (mostly) and flows. Mr Vatikiotis shows how Myanmar might be judged by regional standards rather than what can seem like impossibly remote Western values. We reviewed this book in 2017.

Being and Becoming Kachin. Mandy Sadan. Oxford University Press, 470 pages; £100

This is the only recent, high-quality account of one of the numerous ethnic groups, in this case the Kachin, that live on the geographical fringes of Myanmar. The outside world usually focuses on the struggle for democracy between Ms Suu Kyi and the generals, but Ms Sadan’s rigorously researched book brings a reminder that ever since independence the country has seen almost continuous internal conflict between the majority ethnic Burman people, or Bamar, and minorities such as the Kachin and Chin.

Our former correspondent wrote his own book, in 2015, on the subject:

Blood, Dreams and Gold: The Changing Face of Burma. By Richard Cockett. Yale University Press, 296 pages; $35 and £18.99

How Burma, once one of the richest countries in the region, descended into decades of civil war and authoritarian government before embarking on a surprising attempt at political and social reform. The book gathers together diverse strands of the country’s past—from drugs to warlords, Islam to illegal logging—to consider its pathologies.■

(FILES) 在这张拍摄于2021年2月15日的资料照片中,一名抗议者在仰光的缅甸中央银行前举行的反对军事政变的示威中举起了一张印有昂山素季的海报。- 军政府发言人2022年6月23日说,被推翻的缅甸领导人昂山素季已从软禁转为单独监禁在军方建造的首都内比都的一个监狱大院里。(Photo by AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

这篇文章是我们夏季读物系列的一部分。请访问我们的文集,了解 "经济学人读物 "指南、特邀文章和更多季节性的干扰因素。


摘下新芽不会阻止春天的到来。Ko Ko Thett和Brian Haman编著。Balestier出版社;264页;11.99英镑

对于2021年2月1日的政变以及此后发生的可怕事件,现在期待任何连贯的描述都为时过早。缅甸诗人Ko Ko Thett和学者Brian Haman制作了下一个最好的东西,他们称之为 "见证诗歌和散文 "的书。这些都是第一手资料,往往是对去年震撼全国的许多反政变示威活动以及随之而来的军事镇压;枪击、殴打、逮捕和酷刑的直观描述。一位撰稿人写道:"风景是血腥的,"。这里记录了两位在反政变抗议活动中丧生的诗人的最后作品。

女士和将军们。昂山素季和缅甸争取自由的斗争。作者:Peter Popham。Rider;496页;14.99英镑

昂山素季的身材微胖,气质优雅,三十多年来一直主导着缅甸的政治,尽管她在大部分时间里都被军政府关着。关于她的传记,最易读的是英国记者彼得-波普姆(Peter Popham)的作品。他的第一版 "女士与孔雀 "记录了她在2010年从软禁中获释之前的生活;第二版将故事发展到她在2015年大选中取得压倒性胜利,之后民盟成立了政府。"女士与将军》记录了2015年大选前的乐观精神;长期的制裁被解除,西方援助涌入缅甸,素季女士胜利地巡游了世界。我们在2016年回顾了这本书。

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缅甸的罗兴亚人种族灭绝。身份、历史和仇恨言论。作者:罗南-李。I.B. Taurus;288页;19.99英镑

尽管素季女士一生中大部分时间都在英勇地反抗缅甸的将军们,但她对罗兴亚人的态度使她的国际声誉严重受损。2017年,军队在很大程度上将这个穆斯林少数民族赶出了国境。这相当于一场种族灭绝。她没有为罗兴亚人说话;也许她甚至和她的许多缅甸同胞一样对他们抱有偏见,认为他们根本不是真正的 "少数民族",而只是非法的孟加拉移民。作为该国的实际领导人,她甚至出现在国际法院,为部队的行为辩护。罗南-李对罗兴亚人多年来在缅甸遭受的残酷和歧视写下了最可靠和最新的描述。他展示了军队是如何将宗教和种族作为武器来巩固权力的。Suu Kyi女士也被温柔地烤了一下。

失落的脚步之河》。作者:丹敏乌。Farrar, Straus and Giroux出版社;384页;19美元,Faber & Faber出版社;10.99英镑。



如果想对缅甸古老的君主制的破坏有更多的想象力,请阅读印度作家阿米塔夫-戈什的《玻璃宫》。该书以英国军队猛攻曼德勒的缅甸国王玻璃宫为戏剧性的开篇,这是1885年第三次(也是最后一次)英缅战争的高潮。戈什先生跟随最后一位国王流亡到英属印度,在那里,时间 "像沙粒一样累积,直到他们把他埋葬"。一个庞大的人物阵容将读者带入一个错综复杂的旅程,穿越印度和马来亚以及缅甸的家庭、殖民和政治斗争,直到20世纪90年代。这是一部小型史诗,勇敢地穿越时间和地点,有时很有趣,常常很凄凉,而且总是很明智。

血与丝。现代东南亚的权力与冲突。作者:Michael Vatikiotis。Weidenfeld & Nicolson;336页;20英镑






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