A Rogue, a Pariah and All In Be­tween

Global Asia - - BOOK REVIEWS - Re­viewed by John Delury

Andray Abra­hamian is uniquely qual­i­fied to write a book on North Korea and Myanmar, hav­ing lived and taught in Ran­goon and been a fre­quent visi­tor to Py­ongyang. He sees Myanmar’s defin­ing con­di­tion as “frac­ture” caused by the coun­try’s daunt­ing eth­nic and re­li­gious di­ver­sity, while for ho­moge­nous North Korea, the cen­tral prob­lem is ex­ter­nal “divi­sion” from South Korea and the ex­ter­nal threat of the South’s ally, the US.

Burma’s founder, Aung San, ne­go­ti­ated a uni­fied state that has been in low-grade civil war ever since. North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, started a war to unify the coun­try but, af­ter de­feat, had to live with a Cold War that con­tin­ues still. These founders’ lega­cies came to­gether in an ex­tra­or­di­nary con­ver­gence around the year 2010, when Aung

San’s daugh­ter emerged from decades of house ar­rest to be­come a na­tional leader, and in the same year Kim Il Sung’s grand­son was an­nounced to the world as heir ap­par­ent. Aun San Suu Kyi re­ceived the No­bel Peace Prize and be­came a dar­ling of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity — un­til the tragedy of the Rohingya cri­sis threat­ened to re­turn Myanmar to “pariah” sta­tus. Kim Jong Un was mocked, feared and writ­ten off as crazy — un­til a sud­den turn of events now makes it ap­pear likely he will hold sum­mits as a states­man with the pres­i­dents of South Korea and the US.

North Korea and Myanmar con­tinue to sur­prise us, in large mea­sure be­cause of the lim­its of our un­der­stand­ing of and ac­cess to them. Abra­hamian has made a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to fill­ing that gap.

North Korea and Myanmar: Di­ver­gent Paths By Andray Abra­hamian Mcfar­land, 2018, 246 pages, $39.95 (Pa­per­back)

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