October 16, 2012
The Lady and the Peacock by Peter Popham
Ok, I have to admit, I'd never heard of Aung San Suu Kyi before this book. Actually I had to go look up Burma on a map because it wasn't something I recalled from any of my geography courses either. So aside from that sad statement on the public school system and my failure at learning more outside the system, I'm learning now, and that can't be anything but good, right? That being said, this book, while a wealth of information, was a very hard read, and a bit confusing at times as well.
Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of a famous general who was a favorite of the people and assassinated at a very young age. When her mother becomes ill, Suu leaves her husband and two sons in England, and goes back to Burma (aka Myanmar) to be with her mother and care for her. It is while there that she sees firsthand how the country is struggling under the military rule imposed on it and finds herself lifted up as a campaigner for a democratic Burma. This makes her quite a few enemies though and despite her working towards a better future for her country, Suu is imprisoned under house arrest for nearly twenty years and faces several other hardships as a result of her involvement.
When Popham is actually writing about Suu, there's a lot of detail. Right down to the clothes she is wearing and what he apparently thinks she is thinking and feeling. A lot of it seems to be speculation though and considering the author has had very limited time with her, I wonder how much of it is real. Her companions and of course the figures in the opposing military parties are not written nearly as sympathetic. Compared to Suu, everyone else is largely a downtrodden person that's just made better by her being in their life whether they know it or not. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little on that, but that did seem to be a prevalent theme. I recognize she's a wonderful lady, but there's just a bit too much worshipful prose about her in this book to make her seem real to me.
The book is actually more of a history book though. Every person in relation to Burma's military and political realm that you can think of is probably listed in here. It's actually quite confusing when paired with all sorts of acronyms beings used, intrigues, plots and everything else. In addition, the timeline is a bit skewed and jumps around as well, which just makes for hard reading when dealing with something non-fiction. I did learn a lot, but I had to go back and keep re-reading certain parts in order to learn those things as the book just did not flow well and was a bit too wordy. I think eliminating some of the non-informative parts (like what Suu was wearing and what her companion thought of the bathrooms) would have helped make the reading a little clearer and I could have read without distraction. I also would have liked to read more about Suu than the military and other people; there was a lot of her, but since I thought this book was all about her it was surprisingly taken up by a lot of topics besides Suu as well. This book actually would have made two very good separate books had the author taken the time to separate the topics.
Lots of information and I did learn things that I never knew before (plus developed an interest in Burma). I just wish it had been pared down a bit and placed in a sensible timeline, it would have made for better reading.
The Lady and the Peacock
400 pages + Notes & Index