My uncle once told me that you can visit the Roman Colosseum and see a bunch of stones, or you can visit the Roman Colosseum and see a myriad of stories and happenings. What makes the difference is how much you have previously read and learned about it.
I never forgot these words.
The Colosseum is, of course, a kind of metaphor. He didn’t mean *just* the Colosseum, but the whole world. Every corner of it.
When I first arrived in Myanmar, I had very little knowledge about the place. Until recently, Myanmar has been a blank spot for many, and until now we have the chance to visit. But why? And what is it that makes this country so alluring and its people so graceful? I set out to find the greatest books about Myanmar to suck up as much background I could about the country in order to understand it better.
These are my picks.
The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh
Set in Myanmar, Bengal, Malaya and India, this novel starts from the fall of the Konbaung Dynasty in Myanmar to modern times exploring a range of issues from economics to society. Along the way, the author showcases the struggles Malaya, India and Myanmar have gone through to become what they are today. The novel is focused on the story of Rajkumar, a poor boy who lifts himself up from the ground and goes on to become a rich man, befriending important figures along the way.
Letters from Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi
Through letters, the author depicts an image of Burma, his native land beyond borders. He paints a picture and celebrates those who underwent a myriad of struggles to support a democratic and free Myanmar.
Golden Parasol by Wendy Law-Yone
Wendy was fifteen during the military coup of 1962. She was the daughter of Ed Law-Yone, the owner of an important newspaper, who was jailed for five years as a political prisoner.
Decades after his death, Wendy found an amazing story in her father’s manuscripts and after editing was able to tell eccentric stories about Burma’s Colonial rule, the Japanese occupation, and the turbulent military dictatorship.
Burmese Days by George Orwell
Orwell’s first novel. A story of the days of British colonialism, set during the times when Burma was a part of British India. At that time, Orwell was a young man working for the British Imperial Office. His connection to Burma is so deep, that many call him “the prophet”.
Many said that Burmese Days is not a standalone novel, but part of a trilogy that is constituted by Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin
Emma Larkin writes about the year she spent traveling Burma using the work of George Orwell as a map, visiting the places where Orwell lived and worked in. Through this intrepid travelogue, she shows the situation of a country hidden from the world.
The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason
In 1886, Edgar Drake, a piano tuner, is commission by the British War Office. His task? To head to remote jungled in Burma and repair a rare piano that was originally shipped in to unify the princes in Burma and was thus deemed a key to expanding the British Empire.
A Fortune Teller Told Me by Tiziano Terzani
“An utterly charming and engaging travel book that offers vivid portraits of unusual corners of Asia, told by a skilled raconteur whose eyes were open wide.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review
Traveling by foot, train, bus, boat and cars after being warned by a fortune-teller not to fly for a year, the author visits Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapour. Over the course of a year, Terzani visits the most famous fortune-tellers, sorcerers, shamans and the likes to get advice and learn about his future. “It turned out to be one of the most extraordinary years I have ever spent: I was marked for death, and instead I was reborn.”