Penguin Group sent me this book to review as a member of the Blogger Book Network. Although it was originally published in 1991, it was released again this year with a new introduction by BBC correspondent Fergal Keane.
Aung San Suu Kyi has lived a remarkable life as a political leader fighting for democracy in Burma. She has been relentless in her struggle for freedom and human rights, even though her values and beliefs have caused her to be imprisoned for nearly a third of her lifetime.
Letters from Burma is a collection of short, 3-5 page chapters depicting daily Burmese life within an explanation of politics and discussions on human rights. Suu Kyi writes poetically about drinking tea, Burmese hospitality, and the artistry of ceramic bowls, contrasting these miniature narratives beautifully with other chapters stating factual information about Burmese political history. She effectively uses analogies of everyday life to relate details of the importance of democracy and human rights.
Because each chapter is so short, it allows for the reader to read a chapter or two at a time and then set the book down to muse over each carefully-chosen word and phrase that Suu Kyi has used. Even a reader with no background knowledge of the issues in Burma will be able to understand the situation; Suu Kyi gives plenty of information on the political struggles in her home country without overwhelming the reader with too many facts and figures.
The narrative writing style contributes to the pleasure of reading Letters from Burma. Some of the politics can become a little confusing, but Aung San Suu Kyi revisits the issues that the Burmese people and the political leaders have had to face so that the reader can have a well-rounded understanding.
Suu Kyi captures the reader’s emotion with her honesty of self. One chapter entitled “Young Birds Outside of Cages”, which deals with the hardships of political figures being separated from their family and children, is enough to send shivers down the spine as it focuses on the traumatic effects on young children.
Anecdotes fill the pages, drawing out the reality of the situation. It also makes the reader realize just how far removed we are from the sort of life that Suu Kyi describes:
“…our young people these days, although they are rich and have never known what it is like not to have enough to eat, do not look up toward the heavens, nor do they care whether there are clouds or whether there is a sun behind them.” (37).
Throughout this poetic account of history, politics, national pride, and humanity is an underlying strength which reminds the reader to always fight for freedom, to never give up, and to appreciate even the smallest of everyday things that we take for granted. Aung San Suu Kyi proves herself as an exquisite writer in addition to being an international hero.