Ten Books to Read To Kickstart Your Myanmar Adventure
By Jaycee Jung
The people of Myanmar are friendly and love travellers visiting their beautiful land. The pagodas stand magnificent and there are historical and prehistoric sites ready for a visit. The beaches and islands, only known to a few, make the perfect getaway for a peaceful holiday. The country has evolved and changed much especially through the conflicts and change in leadership, and thus remains a country that has much to offer its visitors.
Here are 10 books about Myanmar to get you well-versed before you begin your adventure.
#10 Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin
This book traces the journey of Emma Larkin as she spends a year in Myanmar retracing the path of famed 1984 author George Orwell, in his Burmese Days. Orwell served for 5-years with the Indian Imperial Police in Myanmar during the last years of British colonialism. What’s interesting is that Larkin relied solely on Orwell’s life and work in Myanmar as her guide (which an exciting prospect to say the least!) Her book is also a rare read, as it contains her personal experiences as well as the biography and history of the places Orwell had been before, creating a, meaningful connection between the past and present.
#9 When China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia
Located between China and India, two political and geographical giants, the Golden Land of Myanmar is humbly rich with history and culture and takes its rightful spot between the two nations. Myanmar national, Thant Myint-U, crossed the borders of both countries and noticed the significant difference of these nations. In China, he found modern shopping malls, heritage-themed tourism and even giant amusement parks, a symbol of the fast-growing consumerism. In India, he found a pro-democracy movement left deserted, along with the absence of fellow advocates that were once persuaded to cross the border
As you read When China Meets India, you will discover the wonderful and uncommon mix of history, travel, and a vision of Myanmar’s near future as its significance in becoming a prominent global player.
#8 Twilight over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess, by Inge Sargent
This captivating book is an exceptional piece. You will discover the experiences of an Austrian wife (Thusanda) of the Hsipaw Prince in Shan State. The flow of the book is smooth as it brings you on a journey with a pair of unfortunate lovers. Thusanda witnessed her husband work on meaningful causes dedicated to improving general health, education and also to redistribute the lands in a non-feudal manner. She was quickly enchanted by the beauty of the mountain ranges that surround Shan State, as well as the charming countryside.
#7 From the Land of Green Ghosts, by Pascal Khoo Thwe
This book tells the journey of Pascal Khoo Thwe, a man from a small village who had been through a series of hurts and losses making From the Land of Green Ghosts adored by many.
Pascal grew up in Padaung tribe in a remote place of Myanmar. The government back then banned Elvis Presley’s music to a point where whoever who played the guitar in the public was deemed a ‘street ghost’, hence the interesting title of this book.
Pascal’s life went through some dark moments when he became part of a guerrilla army following the rape and murder of his girlfriend. Pascal managed to survive in the rough jungle before going to Thailand, and ended up studying in Cambridge University.
#6 The Glass Palace, by Amitav Ghosh
If you love reading about true stories and experiences, your should not miss reading The Glass Palace. It brilliantly explores the events experienced by the royal family of Myanmar at that time. The King was defeated and forced into exile in India, but his wife was relentless and stood her ground until the end, not ever bowing, but instead accepting her fate with her head held high.
The story is told by Rajkumar who had witnessed the downfall of Konbaung Dynasty. Readers will follow Rajmunar’s journey throughout the book and gain a better understanding of the social and economic growth of Myanmar.
#5 Burma Chronicles, by Guy Delisle
A Canadian cartoonist, Guy Delisle managed to illustrate Myanmar creatively on paper in a bid to step away from typical novels. His comic depicts his life spent in Myanmar with his wife and son, along with the stories of his exciting and meaningful travels. Despite being thrown right in the middle of General Ne Win’s regime, he turned those moments into picturesque stories that help readers understand Myanmar’s troubled past and history in a visual form.
#4 Under the Dragon: A Journey Through Burma, by Rory MacLean
Let Rory MacLaen, an author who travelled extensively throughout Myanmar, take you on his journey into the golden triangle of Myanmar, where the borders of Myanmar meet Thailand and Laos. His narration is done wonderfully, with each part written in so much detail. The book includes MacLean’s portrayal of Myanmar’s history and his encounter with the locals and child labourers. MacLean covers Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan, and gives a detailed expression of the state of Myanmar.
#3 Freedom From Fear, by Aung San Suu Kyi
Freedom From Fear represents the collection of revised writings and new materials derived from Aung San Suu Kyi’s hopes, fears, love and concern for the people of Myanmar. You will also find the Nobel Peace Prize speech that was delivered by her son. This book is captivating in its view to build a country from bottom and give it a chance for a fresh start. With its new approach on democracy as a fresh introduction, it is a tempting read for Asians who value a democratic leadership to read it from start to finish.
#2 Elephant Run, by Roland Smith
This historical novel tells the tale of a young Nick Freestone who was caught in the middle of a bomb attack in London during World War 2. He lost his home to the bombings and was sent by his mother to live with his father at their family’s teak plantation in Myanmar, which back then, was assumed to be safer.
Nick’s safety was quickly compromised at the elephant village as Japanese soldiers arrived and took his father. Stuck at the plantation, he was forced to serve the new rulers. Nick plotted with his friend Mya to run away with only an elephant as their companion. The unusual trio set on a dangerous journey to save Nick’s father and Mya’s brother who was imprisoned in a Japanese POW Camp.
#1 The Piano Tuner, by Daniel Mason
Here is a unique book that combines the beauty of music with a story. An English piano tuner who had a simple and quiet life was offered a request to travel to the jungles of Myanmar just to repair a rare piano. His journey was intriguing and extraordinary, bringing readers to discover the lives of the people there along with its cultural influence.
Each of these books are beautifully written and have been several readers’ all-time favourite books on Myanmar. Each of them tells a deep story about the land that has been through agony and hurt, surrounded by stunning nature, pagodas, beaches and townships. Enjoy the poignant moments as you read about how these people embark on a journey of healing and feel your heart warm up to the kindness and selflessness of the locals in times of difficulties.