Miss Burma

Miss BurmaMiss Burma by Charmaine Craig

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book takes us through a journey of many years through the history of Burma (now called Myanmar.) It begins with a Miss Burma contest then goes back time over twenty years to see the history of Miss Burma’s Jewish father (Benny) and the eventual meeting and marriage of her parents. Khin, Miss Burma’s mother, is an ethnic Karen (emphasis on the second part of the word rather than the first as is common in the English language) which is to refer to a number of Sino-Tibetan speaking groups, many of which do not share a common culture. Their relationship wasn’t so much romance as more the tale of a man carried away with the beauty of a woman and proposing marriage immediately, without actually getting to know the woman he was pledging himself to.

The marriage between Benny and Khin starts off with them barely able to communicate but very much one of love but it is many years before they are able to freely talk. Louisa (Miss Burma) is their first child and life appears to be golden, but the reality of Khin being part of a minority in Burma puts the relationship under pressure. Benny is a wise business man and Khin is a dutiful wife, overlooking many of Benny’s faults. There is much infidelity and bad choices made by both Benny and Khin, although it tends to be tinged with the decision being made because of the war rather than with malice. And there is a certain sadness at seeing a loving relationship unravel due to the pressures of ongoing conflict.

We go from World War Two to the civil war between ethnic groups that wanted the annihilation of other groups. This book fits a lot of history into its 368 pages, mostly which is largely unknown to people in Western nations. The long term effects of conflict on children is explored and clearly seen in this novel. Louisa has abandonment issues and finds it hard to trust anyone. She wins her country’s first beauty pageant but does it more to please her warring parents rather than any real desire to win for pure pleasure. She also accepts an unwise marriage proposal in a bid to escape her parents clutches and their emotional mess, which begins the same cycle again. It does end with Louisa finding her place in the world, which is gut wrenching and exhilarating at the same time.

I found this to be a fascinating book, learning about a history through the lives of people actually related to the author, making this an ‘own voice’ book. It made a complicated history flow much more smoothly for the reader, as it takes us through 68 years of history in 22 chapters. Fascinating and beautiful, Miss Burma is a book well worth the read.

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