Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads by Benedict Rogers

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Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads by Benedict Rogers

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Category: History
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Anna Hollingsworth
Reviewed by Anna Hollingsworth
Summary: Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads is a comprehensive review of a country struggling under a military regime, shedding light onto a situation often ignored in the wider international community. The immense human suffering does not leave the reader untouched, although the book suffers from a high-pace style of presenting its material at the cost of more engaged discussions.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: November 2015
Publisher: Rider
ISBN: 978-1846044465

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Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and journalist with an expert insight into Burma, gathered first-hand on journeys to regions off the beaten track. Burma is a country under the iron rule of a succession of military regimes, struggling with over half a century of suffering, much unknown to the wider international audience.

In Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads, Rogers sets out to remedy the wide-spread ignorance of the situation in Burma, casting light onto the plight of its people – throughout the book, the author reminds the reader of his pledge to various interviewees to tell their untold stories and make their cries for help heard. The author's expertise shines bright throughout the material covered: a brief history of Burma sets the scene even for the uninitiated, and topics as diverse as the havoc wreaked by cyclone Nargis, sham elections, defecting from the army, the fates and deeds of pro-democracy activists, and, most prominently, the suffering endured by ethnic minorities are discussed with equal dexterity. Rape as a weapon of war, brutal torture bordering on the bizarre, and broken promises by the military junta are recurrent themes in this eye-opening, thought-provoking run-through of the past, present, and future of a country full of human tragedy.

It is precisely this breadth of coverage that characterizes Rogers' work and that sets it apart from other titles focusing on a narrower array of aspects of the inherently multifaceted situation. Rogers utilizes his wide range of source material to capture all the shades of grey of the multiple tragedies and avoids painting a black and white picture which is so often the risk in descriptions of humanitarian catastrophes: the pro-democracy movement is criticized for its silence in the face of extremist religious violence, and the military is approached not only as an oppressive institution but also from the individual soldier's perspective, striving to understand how someone willing to defect and opposed to the regime's tactics is more often than not too afraid to act because of government propaganda. The author derives his discussion from an impressive array of sources: while many stories refer back to interviews and articles published elsewhere, much of the book is based on anecdotes of the author's encounters with prominent activists, such as the pro-democracy leader Aun San Suu Kyi, displaced peoples at the Burmese hinterlands, and government officials.

While just getting access to these sources itself should be applauded given the regime's suppression of free speech and general limited access to much of the country, it seems as if Rogers, pursuing his pledge to make the suffering in Burma known to the wider community, feels obliged to document most of the cases he comes across, without enough of a sieve to produce flowing narration. Cases of rape and torture by the military are run through at a pace that leaves the reader gasping for breath and makes the majority of the anecdotes appear as passing mentions in a list of disconnected instances. This style of documentation lends an unnecessarily dense feel to the text, and a more in-depth approach to a few incidents rather than the superficial listing of many would benefit both the content and style of the book.

Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads is a comprehensive review of a country suffering under its leaders that does not leave the reader untouched but would benefit from a slower pace and in many places of a more engaged discussion of its source material.

If this book appeals to you, then you might also like to try Nothing but the Truth: Selected Dispatches by Anna Politkovskaya

Buy Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads by Benedict Rogers at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads by Benedict Rogers at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads by Benedict Rogers at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads by Benedict Rogers at Amazon.com.

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