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Burmese Lessons: A True Love Storyby Karen Connelly
Synopses & Reviews
The Dinner Party
I said that I would find the place myself. I wanted to walk through the city, into Chinatown. “No, thank you. I do not want a ride, it’s all right.”
The pause at the other end of the phone was so long that I thought the line had gone dead.
“Are you still there?”
He asked again, “You . . . want . . . to walk?” Judging from the hesitating formality of the telephone exchanges we’d had earlier, I’d decided that my volunteer guide, San Aung, was over fifty, and a dedicated worry?wart.
“I do want to walk. Please tell me again the name of the restaurant. And how to get there.”
He did. He described it all carefully. He said, “But it can get dark in the evenings. You will be all right alone? I do not want you to get lost.”
How dark could it possibly get in a city? I said, “There is no possibility that I will get lost.”
* * *
I set off gamely enough. The light coaxes me out of weariness and into intoxicating newness: the tea-shop stools, the bottle caps pressed like ancient coins into the hardened mud of the streets; the scowling face of a boy as he pours steaming water into a large pot, then tosses in a load of dirty dishes. As I cross the street, a woman reaches up to a yellow-waterfall tree—laburnum?—snaps off a lemony sprig, and tucks it like a bird into her braided hair.
Even the dirt draws me in, the realness of dirt that lines the edges of millions of flip-flop-clad feet, including my own, which I wash every evening before I sleep, as I am unable to get into bed with dirty feet—a habit ingrained a decade ago, when I lived with Pee-Moi and Paw Prasert in northern Thailand. It comes flooding back to me in the flood of Rangoon, that early time cascading into this one.
I experienced a surge of those memories when I first moved back to Thailand six months ago, a vivid unrolling of the past in a small Thai town, my long-ago life with my Thai family. When I was seventeen, I went to live and study for a year in northern Thailand. It was a Rotary Exchange Program—a dry-sounding moniker for an experience that was utterly transformative. I was a precocious teenager, already publishing my poems and stories, and chafing for more contact with the big world. Living in a strange, brilliant, difficult place gave me something specific to write about, and the book I eventually published about my life in Denchai—Dream of a Thousand Lives—became a bestseller. It also financed several more years abroad and set me up, at twenty-five, as a bona-fide writer.
Earlier this year I returned to Thailand, but now I live in the welter and roar of Bangkok, a city I both love and hate for its chaos. At the height of the after-work rush, Rangoon seems much quieter than Bangkok, more manageable, less noisy. Though noisy enough. The glorious disorder slowly organizes itself into the busy face of evening. Where at first I moved, dazed and jostled, in a thick crowd of bodies, now I float from one stream of rushing humans to another. Young office men with soft faces, housewives confounded by the price of chicken, students who glimmer with intelligence. On Anawrahta Street, small-time salesmen with slicked-back hair have spread their wares—nail clippers, sma
The author of The Dream of a Thousand Lives recounts her journey to Burma, where she she fell in love with a leader of the Burmese rebel army, joined him at his military camp in the jungle and faced a decision of whether or not to marry him--and the dangerous world and lifelong cause that came with him.
Karen Connelly's passionate and poetic memoir begins with her arrival in Burma in 1996 at the age of 27. Brash, naive and bubbling with confidence, she is enchanted by the country, but also determined to 'catch at least a glimpse of the truth--something beyond the beautiful images that are so readily available to the foreign eye' . . . . Burmese Lessons is an intimate account of a country, a relationship and a man--all three of which remain elusive.
--The New York Times Book Review
Burmese Lessons is a polished, literary memoir that includes, along the way, an account Burma's turbulent history. . . . Ms. Connelly is a hugely engaging writer. Burma itself--as Ms. Connelly well knows--is rather more complicated than one difficult love affair.
--The Wall Street Journal
Connelly isn't a hard-nosed journalistic observer. She's intelligent and curious, also emotional, self-deprecating, openhearted. When she meets Maung, a handsome Burmese dissident, at a Christmas party in Chiang Mai, she begins a passionate and complicated cross-cultural romance. We know things can't end well, but we're with Connelly all the way on this journey. There's no resisting.
A] heartbreaking romance set among the temples and verdure of Southeast Asia.
--The Seattle Times
A generous dollop of poetic chick lit combines surprisingly well with criticism of Burma's half-century of bloody dictatorship in Canadian Karen Connelly's Burmese Lessons.
--San Francisco Chronicle
A sensually acute writer, Connelly describes the lush pleasures of losing oneself in a romantic, foreign place, but also details the bitter act of renunciation involved in realizing that her lover belonged not to her but to the larger struggle for Burmese democracy.
Karen Connelly has given her heart to Asia. I bow in gratitude to this writer whose love story is personal and political — and true.
--Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Fifth Book of Peace
Burmese Lessons is a tour de force. At once beautiful literature, an intimate account of a moving journey, a nuanced portrait of another country, a complex yet quietly honest reportage, this book is also a page turner. It will, I believe, become a classic in the new genre that mixes personal memory with public events.
--Susan Griffin, author of A Chorus of Stones and Wrestling with the Angel of Democracy
Weaving a poignant personal love story within a larger cultural tapestry of Myanmar circa 1996, Canadian poet, memoirist, and novelist Connelly delivers a lyrical look at a country in the throes of a deeply pernicious military dictatorship.... Connelly writes eloquently of having given her heart to Asia.
Putting both her safety and heart on the line, Connelly renders deft passages on sexual longing and satiation that help anchor the book's harsh sociopolitical themes. Burmese Lessons examines Burma's tumultuous climate and nuanced cultural ethos with colorful prose and gritty self-reflection.
About the Author
KAREN CONNELLY’s first novel, The Lizard Cage, won the 2007 Orange Broadband Award for New Writers. Her first book, The Dream of a Thousand Lives, won the Governor General’s Literary Award and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year for 2001.
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