Thursday, September 16, 2010

Review of the Day: Burmese Lessons

Burmese Lessons: A True Love Story  is Karen Connelly's very personal story of traveling to Burma and working with Burmese refugees in Thailand. She starts out with the idea of writing some articles about artists and political prisoners in Burma, then broadens her scope to write a book.

While in Thailand, Connelly fell in love with a Burmese dissident leader. She uses their personal relationship as the framework for her larger story about the struggle for democracy in Burma and the hardships faced by the refugees. But her book is still personal.  It is the story of a Western woman's adventure in Burma and what she learned -- as much about herself as the Burmese people.

The only weakness to this fascinating story is that it lacks defining context early on. What I knew about Burma is written on the menu at Burma Super Star, but I don't think I am alone in my ignorance.  Burma, its history, and even its geography are not commonly known to most Western readers.  The book would benefit from a map and a brief explanation early on of Burma's political history. Connelly includes just such a paragraph eventually -- but not until about two-thirds of the way through the book.

Likewise, the book lacks temporal context. Connelly never explains that the story takes place in 1996 and she further obscures that fact by writing about most of the action in the present tense. This makes the book more immediately engaging, but is less historically honest.

This lack of context does not detract from Connelly's writing or her story, but it is distracting. 

Connelly is a poet and novelist, which shows in her eye for beauty and drama.  While not a thorough analysis of Burma's history and politics, Burmese Lessons is an absorbing memoir.


(If you would like your review listed here, please leave a comment with a link to your review and I will add it.)


I got this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers' program.  One more I can cross off that list.


  1. I recently read Bamboo People, a YA novel about Burma, and have been interested in it ever since, so this sounds really good to me.

  2. Bermuda -- I enjoyed it a lot, and it makes me want to learn more about Burma.

  3. This is a book I definitely want to read. While traveling in Vietnam and Cambodia, many people recommended Burma to me but that is the extent of my knowledge about the country!

  4. I have this book on my TBR pile...I hope to get to it before the year ends...thanks for the honest review!


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