best-books-about-myanmar-burma

15 best books about Myanmar

We wrap up our series on this extraordinary country by browsing through the best books about Myanmar and the insights offered within their pages.

Before I visit a country, I like to read a book or two about the destination to get a sense of the place and culture. For Myanmar, it had to be George Orwell’s Burmese Days, a dark and fascinating insight into British colonial Burma and the disgust Orwell felt towards the system he was a part of. 

As with Orwell’s novel, much of Burmese modern literature is intertwined with the country’s complex history: conquered by the Mongols, colonised by the British, occupied by the Japanese and then ruled by an oppressive military junta from 1962 to 2011.

Understandably, writers have for decades focused on the shadows of occupation, brutality and cronyism. However, today, the country’s poets, authors and journalists are writing with unprecedented freedom and looking to a future of hope, optimism and democracy.

We present our view of the best books about Myanmar, listed below in no particular order.

Best books about Myanmar

1. From the Land of Green Ghosts
by Pascal Khoo Thwe
The astonishing story of a young man’s upbringing in a remote tribal village in 1930s Burma and his journey from a strife-torn country to the tranquil quads of Cambridge.
2. Letters from Burma
by Aung San Suu Kyi
A collection from the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. In these astonishing letters Suu Kyi reaches out beyond Burma’s borders to paint for her readers a vivid and poignant picture of her native land.
3. The Piano Tuner
by Daniel Mason
In 1886, piano tuner Edgar Drake receives an unusual request to leave his quiet English life and travel to the jungles of Burma to repair a rare piano. So begins an extraordinary journey overland to Burma accompanied by an enchanting yet elusive woman.
4.   The Glass Palace
by Amitav Ghosh
From the Man Booker Prize shortlisted author of Sea of Poppies comes the story of Rajkumar, a boy working on a market stall outside the royal palace when the British force the Burmese royalty into exile. The Glass Palace is a sweeping story of Burma and Malaya over a span of 100 years that has rightly become a modern classic.
5.   The River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma
by Thant Myint-U
Thant Myint-U tells the story of modern Burma, in part through a telling of his own family’s history in an interwoven narrative that is by turns lyrical, dramatic, and appalling.
6.   Burmese Days
by George Orwell
This modern classic from the waning days of British colonialism in Burma is “a portrait of the dark side of the British Raj”. At its centre is John Flory, “the lone and lacking individual trapped within a bigger system that is undermining the better side of human nature”.
7.   The Road to Wanting
by Wendy Law-Yone
Na Ga was always in search of a better life. But now she sits alone in a hotel room in Wanting, a godforsaken town on the Chinese-Burmese border. Plucked from her rural life, Na Ga is abandoned in Rangoon. Later, she finds herself chasing the dream of a new life in Thailand, where further betrayals and violations await.
8.   Under the Dragon: A Journey Through Burma
by Rory MacLean
After the brutal suppression of an unarmed national uprising, Rory MacLean seized the chance to visit Burma. Travelling from Rangoon into the heart of the Golden Triangle, he heard stories of ordinary people struggling to survive under one of the most brutal and repressive regimes in the world.
9.   Saving Fish from Drowning
by Amy Tan
In this popular work of fiction, 11 Americans leave their resort in Southern Shan State in Burma for a Christmas morning tour – and disappear. Through the twists of fate, curses and just plain human error, they find themselves lost deep in the Burmese jungle.
10. Finding George Orwell in Burma
by Emma Larkin
In this engaging memoir, Emma Larkin tells of the year she spent travelling through Burma using as a compass the life and work of George Orwell, whom many of Burma’s underground teahouse intellectuals call “the prophet”.
11.   Freedom from Fear and Other Writings
by Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi’s collected writings – edited by her late husband, whom the ruling military junta prevented from visiting Burma – reflect her greatest hopes and fears for her fellow Burmese, and her concern about the need for international co-operation in the continuing fight for Burma’s freedom.
12.   Golden Earth: Travels in Burma
by Norman Lewis
Norman Lewis describes a land of breathtaking natural beauty. Hitching lifts with the army and travelling merchants, Lewis is treated to hospitality wherever he stops in this war-torn land, and reveals a country where “the condition of the soul replaces that of the stock market as a topic for polite conversation”.
13. Harp of Burma
by Michio Takeyama
Harp of Burma is Japan’s haunting answer to Germany’s requiem for the First World War, All Quiet on the Western Front. Harp of Burma portrays a company of Japanese troops who are losing a desperate campaign against British forces in the tropical jungles of Burma.
14. Burma Chronicles
by Guy Delisle
Guy Delisle’s travelogue revolves around a year spent in Burma with his wife and son. This unique and extraordinary collection of comics is an impressive and moving work of journalism.
15.   The Lizard Cage
by Karen Connelly
Teza once electrified the people of Burma with his protest songs against the dictatorship. Arrested by the Burmese secret police in the days of mass protest, he is seven years into a 20-year sentence in solitary confinement, cut off from his family and contact with other prisoners.
Lead image: Dreamstime

You might also like: