After reading the book, I was able to understand Myanmar as a society. It explains events in the past that led to the challenges it is facing as it opens up to the world: ethnic rebellion, violence in Rakhine, the seeming slow movement of reforms, among others. Likewise, it shows great potentials once the government and the people get its acts together: rich in natural resources, wide agricultural lands, and access points to China and India, among the biggest markets in the world.
The book is a narrative of Myanmar, from the time of its founding as a kingdom, earlier than the kingdoms in Cambodia and Thailand. The history of the kingdom is full of violence – conquest and battling against invaders, successions and power struggle. It has been intertwined with the histories of countries around it, from the incursion of the Mongols, to its place in the spice trade and its location as the backdoor to China that drawn the British to its gates.
Two wars finally cemented the British occupation of Burma, giving the British East India company complete monopoly of trade and commerce in the area. A subtle divide-and-rule approach, pitting one ethnic group with the others ensure control on the otherwise ungovernable land. The colonial period exposed the country to the ways of the west. With the independence movement in India infecting the emerging leaders of Burma, it became the main struggle before and after the World War II. One of the most interesting part of the book I think is the story on the transition from the granting of independence, the first set of democratic leaders and the events that led to the take-over of the military and the eventually closing of the country from the international community.
The book was written by Thant Myint U, grandson of U Thant, UN Secretary-General in the 50’s. He was born and raised in the US, but he came back to his roots and now serve as the head of a conservation office responsible for the old colonial buildings in the country.