Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Burmese Odyssey

The tragedy of Burma has been much in the news in recent months, and I was drawn to pick up what turned out to be a remarkable memoir of struggle, luck and transformation. In 'from the land of green ghosts, A Burmese Odyssey', author Pascal Khoo Thwe tells his story. He grew up as a hill tribesman from the tiny remote Paduang tribe, famous for their "giraffe-necked" women. This Buddhist, animist culture was touched by Catholic missionaries who supported the education of young Pascal and eventually his interest in English literature. We follow his journey to seminary, university and then years as a guerrilla fighter in the jungle as the military dictatorship's regime becomes increasingly brutal. Ultimately, via coincidence, initiative, luck and commitment, Pascal is rescued and brought from the jungle to Cambridge. He's the first Burmese tribesman ever to study English there.

That's the story, amazing enough, but even better is how it speaks about the ease and difficulties of melding cultures, the pain of dislocation, and the universal way literature can speak to all peoples.

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