|Burma by Robert Kelly|
As it is known to happen, I zigged, when I should have zagged, got sidetracked, took a rabbit trail and ended up in Burma. Officially it is now called the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. General elections were held in 2015, the first since 1990, which began the transition from an authoritarian rule and a new parliament convened on February 1st. I happened to have stumbled upon this happy little factoid, after I found Jan Phillip Sendker's A Well Tempered Heart a few days ago at Barnes and Noble.
Almost ten years have passed since Julia Win came back from Burma, her father’s native country. Though she is a successful Manhattan lawyer, her private life is at a crossroads; her boyfriend has recently left her and she is, despite her wealth, unhappy with her professional life. Julia is lost and exhausted. One day, in the middle of an important business meeting, she hears a stranger’s voice in her head that causes her to leave the office without explanation. In the following days, her crisis only deepens.
Not only does the female voice refuse to disappear, but it starts to ask questions Julia has been trying to avoid. Why do you live alone? To whom do you feel close? What do you want in life? Interwoven with Julia’s story is that of a Burmese woman named Nu Nu who finds her world turned upside down when Burma goes to war and calls on her two young sons to be child soldiers. This spirited sequel, like The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, explores the most inspiring and passionate terrain: the human heart.
I wasn't quite paying attention to the spirited sequel part so we''ll see what happens when I start to read it as I prefer reading books with sequels in order. That in turn sent me down another rabbit trail, leading me to George Orwell's Burmese Days.
Imagine crossing E.M. Forster with Jane Austen. Stir in a bit of socialist doctrine, a sprig of satire, strong Indian curry, and a couple quarts of good English gin and you get something close to the flavor of George Orwell's intensely readable and deftly plotted Burmese Days. In 1930, Kyauktada, Upper Burma, is one of the least auspicious postings in the ailing British Empire--and then the order comes that the European Club, previously for whites only, must elect one token native member. This edict brings out the worst in this woefully enclosed society, not to mention among the natives who would become the One. Orwell mines his own Anglo-Indian background to evoke both the suffocating heat and the stifling pettiness that are the central facts of colonial life:
"Mr. MacGregor told his anecdote about Prome, which could be produced in almost any context. And then the conversation veered back to the old, never-palling subject--the insolence of the natives, the supineness of the Government, the dear dead days when the British Raj was the Raj and please give the bearer fifteen lashes. The topic was never let alone for long, partly because of Ellis's obsession. Besides, you could forgive the Europeans a great deal of their bitterness. Living and working among Orientals would try the temper of a saint."
How could I pass it up after the comparison with E.M. Forster and Jane Austen. *grin* And Facts and Details site with its list of folk tales, classical works and modern writers lead me on merry chase around the interwebz, as well as Sadaik, the online manuscript chest for all things literary in Myanmar, where I found a list of Burmese writers as well as literature in translation.
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