Starred Review. Analysis of Burma has been "singularly ahistorical," Thant Myint-U (The Making of Modern Burma), a senior officer at the U.N., observes. With an eye to what the past might say about Burma's present status as a country in crisis, Thant Myint-U examines the legacy of imperialism, war and invasion. Recounting in a well-crafted narrative the colorful histories of Burmese dynastic empires from ancient times to the 18th century, Thant Myint-U then focuses on how, during the 19th century, the Burmese kingdom of Ava fought and lost a series of border wars with the British East India Company, culminating in a treaty that marked the beginning of Burma's loss of independence. Considering the country's longstanding global isolation in the context of its geographic and cultural singularity, Thant Myint-U interweaves his own family's history, writing extensively about his maternal grandfather, U Thant, who rose from humble origins to become secretary-general of the U.N. in the 1960s. Profiling 20th-century Burmese leaders such as Aung San, U Nu and Nobel Peace Prize–winning activist Aung San Suu Kyi, Thant Myint-U beautifully captures the complex identity of a little-understood country, concluding with a trenchant analysis of Burma's current predicament under an oppressive regime. (Dec.)
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An international pariah for the past four decades, Burma has seen its profile, though not its military government's reputation, rise higher in recent years because of the saga of Aung San Suu Kyi, 1991 Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Thant contributes welcome context to her plight under house arrest, as well as to Burma's, writ large with this history. It reaches into ancient mists, establishing the origins of Burmese national traditions (in terms of revered places, admired kings, and Buddhism), and commences concretely with three wars that culminated in Britain's colonization of the country in 1885. Administratively part of British India, Burma regained some autonomy in the 1930s, but its nationalists, according to Thant, were inclined toward ideological extremism, with baleful effects: the founder of the military regime, Ne Win, sided with the Japanese invaders in World War II and in 1962 imposed a form of nationalistic socialism that suffocated the economy and isolated the country from the world community. This readable, reflective history will support revived interest in Burma. Gilbert Taylor
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