In the same vein as Pachinko, Charmaine Craig’s Miss Burma opens a pandora’s box of history and misery most do not know. Just as in Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, Craig uses a family saga to reveal the horrors endured and the resiliency and courage that helped them survive and thrive, but, in this case, the family is her own. Based on her mother, a real Miss Burma, and her mother’s parents, a disparate couple of differing languages and culture, Craig imagines the conversations and the motivations of her ancestors, a part of a group of people who still fight to be recognized as human.
Although I am only halfway through the book (this is the slowest I have ever read a book), its impact has triggered my curiosity. A good friend and fellow reader sent me links and I discovered more as I looked for confirmation of the story, even the existence of this group of indigenous people from Myanmar/Burma. I discovered about 10,000 Karen who had been forced to immigrate, many to Minnesota in the United States. A more recent article (November, 2017) used the recent exposure of the treatment of the Rohingya, another minority ethnic group in Myanmar, to reflect back on the similar Karen plight detailed in Craig’s story with “reports of human rights violations, including murder, sexual violence and … the destruction and burning of homes and property…” A recent executive order by the American President has stopped the immigration of Karen spouses and children of refugees who came within the past two years.
Recognizing the name Aung San in the novel, I was surprised that General Aung San, the father of the current leader of Burma’s independence movement, Nobel prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, was written as not the saintly national hero often depicted – as is his daughter – but a ruthless, conniving politician, choosing the expedient path to power.
Craig’s story exposes yet another horror of inhumanity in the world. Like Pachinko, Miss Burma offers hope through today’s successful generations, and confirms a history that serves not only as a caution but also as reminder to learn and not be forgotten.
I continue to read this wordy and sometimes disjointed narrative, learning as I read, and urged on by Larkin’s encouragement:
“If at times the doling out of history lessons feels a tad heavy-handed, with characters occasionally succumbing to soliloquy or unlikely moments of narrative self-awareness, it is ultimately forgivable: The context in which “Miss Burma” is set is not part of a common well of knowledge. By resurrecting voices that are seldom heard on a wider stage, Craig’s novel rescues Benny from his own foretelling of oblivion and brings one of Burma’s many lost histories to vivid life.”
Related Review: Pachinko
Note: I finally finished Miss Burma – not at all as engaging as Pachinko.