An eye-opening book on clinging to life in Burma

In November, 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi was freed from prison in Burma after many years incarceration. She is the hope of the people of Burma, who have been without freedom for most of a generation.

Burmese Lessons

Burmese Lessons

By Karen Connelly

Vintage Canada

In November, 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi was freed from prison in Burma after many years incarceration. She is the hope of the people of Burma, who have been without freedom for most of a generation.

What is happening in Burma?

This true story seems a timely read, and it was written by a Calgary raised Canadian woman, who has won literary prizes.

It’s really about Burma and the constant battle the people wage against a military government of the worst kind. It is also a juicy love story.

Karen Connelly went to Burma in the 1990s, to speak with people about their fight for freedom. Burmese journalists are imprisoned for any anti-government writing, and she felt like a crusader who could make a difference by telling the world the inside story.

She found a country where the universities are shut down; where someone entering hospital is obliged to bring bandages and blankets; and where HIV and AIDs are as close as a blood transfusion.

People of all ages have been fighting this regime, since the 1980’s.

The young ones have grown old in the fight, the older ones wonder if they will live long enough to enjoy freedom. The Buddist Sangha (the monks) had been treated with respect, but they too joined the revolution, and many have died in prison.

The author meets “Maung,” who is a leader in the revolutionary forces. He is a handsome charismatic leader and they soon form an intense relationship. Maung is busy with meetings, all over the country and their love must survive in passionate reunions.

They and others trek to a “jungle camp” on the Thai border.

Here soldiers of the revolution rest, and those leaders who are in danger from the government live in relative safety.

The life in the jungle camp, though safer, is extremely difficult with no sanitation or health care. Karen is a pretty adventuresome eater but draws the line at monkey. Best not to ask what’s on the menu.

The camp is made up of people who have lost everything because they have spoken out against injustice.

Many have been imprisoned and tortured. When this author interviews them they talk about family and friends; the family life that has been lost.

The things we take for granted, like hot water and clean drinking water, a doctor to see your sick child, these are not available to them.

In one scene, a large village of bamboo huts has been set fire by the military.

A grandmother, who managed to save the children, is devastated. They had so few keepsakes, and no one could save the photo album. Their record of family past is gone. Of all losses this hurts so much. She howled at the injustice and in our hearts we howl too.

This is a love story for Burma and for a brave man who is part of the battle. A beautiful inside look through Western eyes.

Peggy Freeman is a freelance writer living in Red Deer.