A literary pick A col­lec­tion of some of the best books on Myan­mar

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CULTURE // LITERATURE - “Mis­ruled by a fee­ble, gin-soaked tyrant and his evil queen, the king­dom slid to­wards an­ar­chy. In a last-ditch at­tempt to re­fill the royal cof­fers, Thibaw’s min­is­ters seized upon the idea of public lot­ter­ies. Tick­ets could soon be bought at booths on ever

Apart from one ex­cep­tion, each of the books listed was pub­lished be­fore Myan­mar’s po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic re­forms be­gan in 2011. The coun­try has changed a great deal dur­ing the past few years, so I’m look­ing for­ward to read­ing new works that de­pict the “new” Myan­mar (in­so­far as I know, none yet ex­ist) as well as a flour­ish­ing of writ­ers cel­e­brat­ing greater literary free­dom. It goes with­out say­ing that learn­ing about Myan­mar’s tur­bu­lent and com­pli­cated past is es­sen­tial to un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion to­day.

The Trouser Peo­ple, An­drew Mar­shall (2002)

Due to the coun­try’s dic­ta­to­rial past, many books on Myan­mar are dis­tress­ing and de­press­ing: this one is too, but there’s also a lot of hu­mour in it. Mar­shall, a Pulitzer prize-win­ning jour­nal­ist who works for Reuters, re­traces the steps of ec­cen­tric Bri­tish civil ser­vant and ad­ven­turer Sir Ge­orge Scott, who was knock­ing through Myan­mar’s jun­gles in the 19th cen­tury. The his­tor­i­cal re­search is su­perbly in­trigu­ing and is paired well with what has and hadn’t changed in Myan­mar dur­ing the last hun­dred years or so. xx

For ex­am­ple, the ori­gin of the in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar lot­ter­ies (the mod­ern mo­bile ven­dors of which play some great disco tunes) can be traced to the reign of King Thibaw, who was Myan­mar’s last monarch un­til he was de­posed by the Bri­tish.


Mar­shall writes:

The Bur­man – His Life and No­tions, Shway Yoe (Sir Ge­orge Scott), (1882)

Any­one who reads this book will un­der­stand Mar­shall’s fas­ci­na­tion with Sir Ge­orge Scott, who spent three decades of his life in Myan­mar and trav­elled ex­ten­sively, of­ten for “ne­go­ti­at­ing” deals with the lead­ers of eth­nic mi­nor­ity groups to ac­qui­esce to the Bri­tish Em­pire. Scott was noth­ing short of ob­sessed with lo­cal cus­toms, ge­og­ra­phy and history and this book is the prod­uct of his co­pi­ous note-tak­ing skills. As the ti­tle sug­gests, Scott’s ap­proach was sim­ply to record his de­tailed ob­ser­va­tions, which makes it more of a book to dip in and out of than to read from start to end. Have a flick through: chap­ters such as “Ear bor­ing,” “Lucky and un­lucky days” and “Wizards, doc­tors and wise men” cer­tainly piqued my cu­rios­ity…

While some of Scott’s com­men­tary strays into the

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