Miss Burma (Book Review)

Miss Burma, written by Charmaine Craig and published this year, takes the reader into political and personal stories taking place within Burma from 1926-1965.

The book illustrates the historical relationship between ethnic groups within Burma, specificially the Burmans and the Karen people. The story centers on the lives of husband and wife- Benny and Khin, and their daughter Louisa growing up in Burma. Khin and his family are Karen, while Benny is a Jewish Indian who attempts to adopt Karen heritage.

Miss Burma illustrates how the Burmans had made slaves of the Karen ethnic group centuries before the British colonized the area and made the area a nation state. The Karen people then helped the British to colonize Burma, because it freed them of their oppressors- the Burmans. Unfortunately for the Karen people, during the cold war Britain and America heavily supported the Burman democratic leadership in Burma, fearing that the Karen leadership was communist leaning.

During the book, one of Benny’s friends muses about how the British as backing off and trusting the “democracy” to the Burman people, he thinks about what unity really implies:

“How naive to think that because he makes one sweeping gesture toward Western democracy he couldn’t possibly at that same moment be plotting a systematized form of inequality- a state in which one ‘dominant’ race rules and is sanctioned to discriminate against others- against ‘minorities’- minorities that together make up half the population, though no Burman would ever admit that… let’s take your American example… who have been incorporated into that perfect union with such stunning success…”

The book discusses the difference between the idea of unity and tribalism. Is unity merely a tool used by tyrants, and tribalism a way of protecting culture and values? Miss Burma seeks to flesh out these questions, while also telling the story of the people being affected by the answers.

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