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Letters from Burma
by Aung San Suu Kyi , Fergal Keane
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Reviewed by: John Walsh

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the rightfully elected prime minister of Burma, according to a 1990 election in which her National League for Democracy party took more than 80% of the popular vote. Unfortunately, the oppressive and violent military dictatorship in control of the country has refused to recognize the election result and Aung San Suu Kyi has spent much of the intervening time confined to house arrest. Between November 1995 to November 1996, she sent weekly letters to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun to help educate Japanese readers about life in Burma. In 52 almost perfectly contained vignettes, Aung San Suu Kyi has encapsulated many aspects of life in Burma, both Burmese culture and society and the ways in which this has been perverted by the military junta and their supporters. From the warm blessings of a famous Buddhist monk to the impact of inflation on the daily diet of poor Burmese to the many joys of the festivals that stud the Burmese calendar, she reveals a compassionate and accurate eye for detail and the lives of the people who wish her to lead them. Of course, she is a well-educated and well-read woman and comes from a political family – her father after all was General Aung, previous leader of the country. Her late husband was an Oxford professor whose sad decline she was unable to attend since she knew that, once she left Burma, she would never be permitted to remain. Above all, she clearly has a deep and abiding love of her people which shines through the prose.

I actually won this book as a prize for an article I posted at Juryfury ( and although I had, of course, dipped into it previously for reference, this was the first time that I had actually read all the way through. It has been an inspiring and rather emotional experience. It is one that is recommended to all readers.

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