by George Orwell
This is one of my favorite books. Now that Myanmar has opened up, tourists are already setting their sights on the country. It is difficult to find novels about this area of the world, but here is a fine one. Burmese Days takes place in the final days of the British adventure in Burma. You won't like the English in this book!
"… an absorbing story … the character of Lt. Verrall (who despised the club members from his own superior heaven of Army and blue blood) is a masterpiece of acid delineation." – James Hilton, New York Herald Tribune
"The author loves Burma, he goes to great length to describe the vices of the Burmese and the horror of the climate, but he loves it. … I … recommend it to anyone who enjoys a spate of efficient indignation, graphic description, excellent narrative, excitement and irony tempered with vitriol." – Cyril Connolly, New Statesman
"U Po Kyin, Subdivisional Magistrate of Kyauktada, in Upper Burma, was sitting in his veranda. It was only half-past eight, but the month was April, and there was a closeness in the air, a threat of the long, stifling midday hours. Occasional faint breaths of wind, seeming cool by contrast, stirred the newly-drenched orchids that hung from the eaves. Beyond the orchids one could see the dusty, curved trunk of a palm tree, and then the blazing ultramarine sky. Up in the zenith, so high that it dazzled one to look at them, a few vultures circled without the quiver of a wing." – Burmese Days, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1962 edition.
The Glass Palace
by Amitav Ghosh
Amitav Ghosh can be a challenging writer but once inside his books, his complex characters are not to be forgotten. This book was a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2001. The novel, set in Burma, is mostly set in the 20th century. It tells the story of a poor boy who goes on to become rich and create an empire. Marvelous characters and descriptions of a richly beautiful country.
"I'll never forget the young and old Rajkumar, Dolly, the Princesses, the forests of teak, the wealth that made families and wars. A wonderful novel. An incredible story. " – Grace Paley
"A novelist of dazzling ingenuity." – San Francisco Chronicle
"There was only one person in the food-stall who knew exactly what that sound was that was rolling in across the plain, along the silver curve of the Irrawaddy, to the western wall of Mandalay's fort. His name was Rajkumar and he was an Indian, a boy of eleven – not an authority to be relied upon. …xIt was cold the start of central Burma's brief but chilly winter, and the sun had not risen high enough yet to burn off the damp mist that had drifted in at dawn from the river. …xRajkumar's sharp excited voice cut through the buzz of speculation. 'English cannon,' he said in his fluent but heavily accented Burmese." – The Glass Palace, Random House 2002 edition.
The Piano Tuner
by Daniel Mason
Although I have some quibbles with this book—it takes too long for the main character to reach Burma for one—it is a gripping tale, as well as an enjoyable way to absorb a bit of Burmese history. The author has spent time in Burma and it will be evident that he paid careful attention to his surroundings. The descriptions of the landscape as well as the flowers, birds and the knowledge of the various tribes, make this book well worth the time. The ending is somewhat strange, but by the time you get there it really doesn’t matter. You will have had an engrossing and entertaining journey.
"Where he excels … is in technical detail and sense of place. …xAnd those strange imges of Europe meeting the east, of the east engulfing Europe, linger like a haunting tune. – Hermione Lee, The Guardian
“… a profound adventure story.” – The New Yorker
"In the fleeting seconds of final memory the images that will become Burma are the sun and a woman’s parasol. He has wondered which visions would remain – the Salween’s coursing coffee flow after a storm, the pre-dawn palisades of fishing nets, the glow of ground turmeric, the weep of jungle vines. For months the images trembled in the back of his eyes, at times flaming and fading away like candles, at times fighting to be seen, thrust forward like the goods of jostling bazaar merchantsx…x.” The Piano Tuner, Vintage, 2003 edition.