Books about Burma?
November 19, 2007 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Books about Burma?

I'm hoping to be in Burma in less than a month, and wanting recommendations for things to read about the country - culture, society & history - that sort of thing. Fiction & nonfiction are both OK.

So far, dhruva's recommended Amitabh Ghosh, but I've not been able to find anything else, and the Lonely Planet doesn't seem to have a thing to say about background reading. I was unable to find any travel writing about the country, either.

So, recommend away! (but don't bother with anything about Buddhism; I've got that one well covered already)
posted by UbuRoivas to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am sure you've got it covered (or read it already) but Orwell's Burmese Days is always worth a read.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 1:58 PM on November 19, 2007

I wasn't in the correct mood for it when I tried to read Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin, but if I were traveling to that country I would definitely read it. The Amazon page also includes a few other recommendations.
posted by arco at 2:06 PM on November 19, 2007

The River of Lost Footsteps by Thant Myint-U.
posted by ambrosia at 2:10 PM on November 19, 2007

Golden Earth: Travels in Burma by Norman Lewis (1952, repr. 2003) ("Mr Lewis can make even a lorry interesting"—Cyril Connolly; "An extraordinarily enjoyable book by any standards"—Auberon Waugh; "The brilliance of the Burmese scene is paralleled by the brilliance of the prose"—Guy Ramsey)

The State in Burma by Robert H. Taylor (1988; out of print, but maybe your library has it)

Don't have anything more recent, sorry.
posted by languagehat at 2:31 PM on November 19, 2007

Tony Wheeler's Badlands book about traveling in pariah countries has a good chapter on Burma.
posted by sien at 3:22 PM on November 19, 2007

Orwell also wrote a short story called "Shooting an Elephant"*, about a life-changing experience he had while in Burma.

*It's by far the best thing I have ever read.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:24 PM on November 19, 2007

We read The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason in school a few years ago and I really liked it.
posted by MadamM at 3:37 PM on November 19, 2007

I've just finished The Trouser People: A Story of Burma in the Shadow of the Empire and can highly recommend it. There's a ton of history (particularly about the Shan) as well as being a great travel book. You can get it in hardback from the discount bookshop under Central Railway for about $5 or I can lend it to you.
posted by tellurian at 3:58 PM on November 19, 2007

I suggest going to the website of Longitude Books, a company that specializes in travel books. They have an excellent reading guide here:
posted by HeyAllie at 4:07 PM on November 19, 2007

I really liked Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin.

Saving Fish from Drowning is a novel by Amy Tan, but a lot of it is true about Burma, and definitely it's entertaining.

This is hard to get outside of Asia, but definitely interesting. Restless Souls: Rebels, Refugees, Medics and Misfits on the Thai-Burma Border by Phil Thornton.
posted by Amizu at 6:43 PM on November 19, 2007

Response by poster: thanks all, so far :) keep 'em coming.

and thanks in particular (for the extra local hint) to tellurian - i'll pop by that bookstore on the way to work tomorrow :D
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:09 PM on November 19, 2007

From the Land of Green Ghosts by Pascal Khoo Thwe is worth a read.
posted by demagnetized at 7:02 AM on November 21, 2007

Response by poster: Hard to mark any as best answers without having read the books, but so far I've found:

* The River of Lost Footsteps (Thant Myint-U) &
* The Trouser People (Andrew Marshall)

...and they both look excellent. I should just be able to get through those before leaving. I'm assuming many of the others will be available as battered second-hand paperbacks in Bangkok, so I'll look again there.

Thanks again!
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:14 PM on November 27, 2007

Response by poster: this was just too freaking wonderful not to post:

The sad demise of [exiled Burmese King] Thibaw's white elephant had a bizarre postscript. In his twilight years the poet William McGonagall was approached by emissaries of 'King Theebaw of Burmah and the Andaman Islands', who conferred upon him a title for his services to poetry. Poor McGonagall never discovered that the Burmese royal emissaries were actually pranksters from Edinburgh University, and until his dying day he proudly used the title they had given him: Sir William Topaz McGonagall, Knight of the White Elephant.

(From The Trouser People)

posted by UbuRoivas at 4:13 PM on December 8, 2007

hi there,

definitely Land of Green Ghosts is a must, and Emma's book is a great primer, is george orwell's book. and for a great understanding of politics, there is bertil lintner's OUTRAGE, Burma's Struggle for Democracy--widely available in thailand. Still, having spent the last decade reading books about burma while writing one, i have to unreservedly recommend my own tome. It is an award winning novel called The Lizard Cage, about a young man in solitary confinement, and the world of the prison in which he lives. it's the world of burma, current as well as past political situation, and a very suspenseful gripping read as well. pub'd in the US by doubleday but available in thailand in paperback from harvillsecker. just don't wave it around as you're going through security checks though. i hope you go visit the muslim free hospital in rangoon when you go . . .
posted by kazzagoes at 7:44 PM on December 12, 2007

oh yeah, here's my business card
posted by kazzagoes at 7:47 PM on December 12, 2007

That looks interesting kazzagoes. Welcome to MetaFilter.
posted by tellurian at 10:13 PM on December 12, 2007

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