Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle

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Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle

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Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A year in the life of a Frenchman in Burma (Myanmar), told to us in charming and interesting episodes in clear, simple graphic novel style reportage. Certainly of more interest to those who know Asia, but worth a look by anyone.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: April 2009
Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd
ISBN: 978-0224087711

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What we have here are a male househusband and artist, and his MSF doctor wife, and their life in Burma or Myanmar for roughly a year. We get to see the life in the country, from the racks of bootleg software, to the animation class he leads, to their efforts to get into the lush country clubs, to their baby being adored by every passing girl. We see the state of the country, with its horrid drugs, HIV/AIDS and malaria problems, hidden beyond the gentle Buddhist retreats. We see the Delisles' interaction with this singular country - the censored press, and the fact that their road is only made more busy because of the roadblock diverting everyone away from Aung San Suu Kyi's house a block away.

We see all this through a lot of snapshots, some silent (ie without any dialogue or captions), generally between two and six pages long, making up pertinent episodes in the family's life. The wife does her charitable NGO business, he gets tendonitis in his drawing arm, and the baby becomes a year older. On the whole the book rests on a platform of a two by three panel grid, and while Delisle sometimes takes some unusual choices regarding his guttering - the way the black outline to the picture disappears, or speech bubbles burst their frame, the artistic style is exceedingly vivid, clear, concise and easily readable. Beyond only two artistically smudgy bits, and some pages of multiple smaller panels, there is nothing to get in the way of us witnessing the reportage.

All of which means we can trust the author, and enjoy his convivial company, whatever is going on in this warm (or even torridly hot), horrid and enraging country. It's certainly a topsy-turvy existence for all there. We witness only some of the chaos when for no apparent reason they decide to move the capital and build a replacement elsewhere. It's unfortunate that some of that chaos has hit our pages - it might seem appropriate when Rangoon is spelled three different ways, but a minor character is misnamed once, and the proof reading is poor. Ho-hum.

Beyond that there is little to fault. Guy Delisle meets a character wishing to write about all the equally singular countries in the world, but in this instance now, he would be wasting his time. Yes, this is 2005 given to us in 2009, but the detail, insight and (for such a black and white book) colour, means this is quite a definitive little book. It's gently paced yet busy. Too often I've read travel reportage which harks back to what someone else has written - 'while here I read someone else say this about that' - but this doesn't find the time for such waste. There is a lot packed into these covers, and especially if you have a fondness for Asian travels, this is a valuable purchase.

We at the Bookbag must thank Jonathan Cape for our review copy.

For more life-under-dictatorship reading worth a recommendation, you should consider This Is Paradise by Hyok Kang.

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Buy Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle at Amazon.com.


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