Watching the news out of Burma over the last few days following Aung San Suu Kyi’s release I’ve found myself thinking back to Guy Delisle’s excellent Burma Chronicles, a wonderful bit of travel lit as comics covering the period the artist spent living in Burma with his wife (working for Médecins Sans Frontières). One of the aspects I especially like about Delisle’s books is his ability, like the best travel writers, to give you a real sense of the place and given that he’s not just backpacking through the country for a couple of months but actually living there for an extended period, making friends, living the everyday life, you get much more of a feeling for a country that a succession of little tinpot generals have held isolated from much of the world and under their thumb for far too many years.
(Guy takes his wee lad for a stroll near to the home of The Lady in pages from Burma Chronicles by and (c) Guy Delisle, published Drawn & Quarterly/Jonathan Cape)
And among the little things you learn about, like the times monks pass by and how people make little offerings to them, is that Aung San Suu Kyi’s home is quite close to where Delisle is staying – very near and yet it may as well be on Mars as no-one is allowed near, certainly not some foreigner. You also learn that the Burmese refer to her as The Lady and that despite the imposed isolation of this Nobel Prize recipient she is still solidly in the hearts of the people, the one place the Generals can’t stamp their jackboots. It’s troubling to think that the mere act of drawing and reading a comic detailing this would probably be enough to get a native arrested in Burma (indeed Delisle has to be careful – while they might not arrest him he could get some of the friends he has made in the country into trouble. Free speech comes with a price and all sorts of resonsibilities). Which, along with Burma being once more in the international news (let’s hope for good reasons this time and with a good outcome), is a good reason to once more commend the Burma Chronicles to any of you who haven’t yet read it.