The Lady and the Generals: Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's Struggle for Freedom by Peter Popham

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The Lady and the Generals: Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's Struggle for Freedom by Peter Popham

Category: Biography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Ewbank
Reviewed by John Ewbank
Summary: A fascinating exploration of Aung San Suu Kyi and the complex political situation in Burma.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 480 Date: March 2016
Publisher: Rider
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1846043710

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On 13 November 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest after spending 15 of the previous 21 years as a prisoner of Burma's military junta. Political reforms soon followed, culminating with Suu (as she prefers to be known) being elected to parliament. The West rejoiced; leaders, business men, and tourists poured in; and Suu entered the pantheon of modern-day political heroes. Burma was a burgeoning democracy, and Suu was a saint. In reality, as Peter Popham argues in 'The Lady and the Generals', the situation was far more complex.

Popham notes that Burma is still far from being a true democracy; whilst the generals have retreated to the shadows, they are still pulling the strings. Burma's constitution, ratified in a rigged election in 2008, requires that 25% of MPs be appointed directly by the military. More worryingly, it allows the army to assume control of the country at any time and under any pretext. There is also a clause barring anyone whose children have foreign passports from becoming president, a blatant attempt to stop Suu assuming the presidency (her two sons have British and American passports, respectively). Although Suu and her party have agreed to work with the military to support the reforms, the constitution remains a thorny issue.

As for Suu herself, Popham tries to get beyond the halo and present a true portrait of the lady idolised by so many. Like many political heroes before her, and despite her undoubted courage and resolve, she has her share of flaws. According to her associates, she can be haughty, high-handed, and inflexible. Her office is notoriously chaotic and arranging to see or interview her is virtually impossible (the president of Mongolia, calling in person to arrange a visit, was told to by a secretary to submit his CV). More concerning for the West, she has failed to take a firm stand against ethnic violence towards Burma's minorities, particularly the Muslim Rohingya in the south.

As someone who knew very little about Burma, I found 'The Lady and the Generals' to be both eye-opening and compelling. It's also beautifully written and highly readable, despite the occasionally grim subject matter. Above all it is honest, which is perhaps the highest praise for a biography. Popham is clearly an expert on the subject, and anecdotes from his frequent visits to Burma over the past 20 years perfectly illustrate the changing situation in the country. And with Suu's party now firmly in control of parliament following recent elections, and Suu herself acting as president by proxy, the next chapter in Burma's political journey promises to be equally fascinating.

For more on Burmese politics, we would recommend Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads by Benedict Rogers.

Thanks to Rider for providing the review copy.

Booklists.jpg The Lady and the Generals: Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's Struggle for Freedom by Peter Popham is in the Top Ten Autobiographies and Biographies 2016.
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Buy The Lady and the Generals: Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's Struggle for Freedom by Peter Popham at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Lady and the Generals: Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's Struggle for Freedom by Peter Popham at Amazon.com.


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