KIRKUS REVIEW, MARCH 2010
BURMESE LESSONS: A True Love Story by Karen Connelly
An American journalist explores Burma in the mid-1990s, witnessing its tyrannical regime, defiant resistance groups and distinct customs.
Burma—or Myanmar, as renamed in 1989 by a militaristic government—has been steeped in political turmoil for decades. Known more for its political oppression and resolute opposition leaders than its rich heritage and lush geography, Burma’s strife has been well-documented through reportage and personal journals, including political prisoner and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi’s Letters from Burma (1998) and Pascal Khoo Thwe’s From the Land of Green Ghosts (2003). Orange Broadband Award winner Connelly (The Lizard Cage, 2007, etc.) bluntly chronicles her experience from the front lines in varying contexts: conducting investigative research in teeming Bangkok, watching a brutal street protest with Buddhist monks in Rangoon, seeing a child with malaria perish as his mother watched, working at resistance camps in the Burmese jungle and navigating a budding romance with one of the opposition’s key leaders, Maung. Ever-cognizant of her Western perspective, the author approached each new person and situation with a reverential but dogged thirst for insight. As her knowledge of Burmese sensibilities broadened, so did the breadth of her love for Maung. The author wrestled mightily with the growing realization that commitment to him would mean a lifelong devotion to a struggle that supersedes their lives. Throughout the narrative, the author works hard to summon the patience and compassion that is native to Maung, examining her motivations and frustrations with rigor and humility. Putting both her safety and heart on the line, Connelly renders deft passages on sexual longing and satiation that help anchor the book’s harsh sociopolitical themes.
Boldly examines Burma’s tumultuous climate and nuanced cultural ethos with colorful prose and gritty self-reflection.