Review: Miss Burma

“I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t both intrigued and frightened by the myth of my mother and her native country, by their secrets and contradictions.”

Charmaine Craig

Miss Burma is a novel written by American author Charmaine Craig. It is a fictionalized version of her own family story, following the lives of her grandparents, Khin and Benny, and her mother, Louisa, as they live through the many political changes in Burma.

The novel starts with Benny, a young Jewish officer who moves to Rangoon during the British occupation of Burma, when Burma was considered part of British India (you can read more about that in my review of Burmese Days), and falls in love at first sight with Khin, a member of the Karen ethnic group, which has been persecuted and oppressed for a long time. Their relationship is tried again and again by the turbulent political changes of the country. As the Japanese occupy Burma, Benny, Khin and their three children are forced to leave their home and go into hiding. Once the war is over and the British and the Japanese are out, the Karen people, who were aiming to become self-governing find themselves fighting against the country’s Burmese government. As the years go by, Louisa, Benny and Khin’s daughter, becomes the country’s first beauty queen and must learn to live with the burdens of her fame, the danger of her ethnic heritage, the heartache of her family, and her people’s fight for freedom.

What I liked about this book is that it is a historical novel but it is not a history book. It does tell the story of the author’s mother and grandparents, but it is a fictionalized version of it. Only Charmaine Craig knows what truly happened and what is an embellishment, but the most important parts of her family history are there.

“While it became increasingly important to me to set the historical record straight, to track the geopolitical movements that gave rise to Burma’s military dictatorship and its ongoing waves of genocide, I never wanted merely to restore the past with this book. I am a fiction writer, and so… I wanted to create a possible world distinct from the world of history and my family.”

Charmaine Craig

Yes, I liked the book, but it did take me a bit long to finish. It was interesting and I did want to know more, but the writing style can feel somewhat… heavy. Some parts of it dragged on for a while, and I was not always invested in all the characters. Nonetheless, it is a good story about strong-willed and flawed people, and about a country that somehow keeps showing up in my studies and in my free-time reading. In general, we don’t talk and hear enough about Myanmar, and there is a lot to talk about. So, I feel that, if you have not turned your attention towards it, this is a good place to start.

  My edition:  Paperback, published in 2017 by Grove Press.
My edition: Paperback, published in 2017 by Grove Press.