"Miss Burma"

As I read this historical fiction book about ethnic wars in Burma (now Myanmar) between 1939 and the 1960’s, I recalled hearing the news and reading about the recent massacres in Myanmar as the Burmese army retaliated against the Rohingya Muslim minority following an alleged Rohingya insurgency against security officers, according to the Myanmar foreign ministry.

To date, more than a third of the million Rohingyas living in Myanmar have been forced to flee to Bangladesh to escape persecution. They also are continuing to be slaughtered.

“Miss Burma” follows a real family as its fortunes rise and then fall as the family members struggle to retain their Karen (Ka-REN) identity within the country of Burma. The real Miss Burma is the mother of the author. She was in pageants between the ages of 10 and 15 when she became Miss Burma.

Her father hoped that her recognition would make the Karen ethnic group more acceptable and inclusive and that the persecution would stop. Her mother hoped the publicity her daughter received would bring back a revolutionary soldier with whom she fell in love while her husband was in jail for his actions against the Burmese government.

Miss Burma, Louisa, eschews her success as a beauty queen and as a movie starlet. She marries Lynton, the same revolutionary who was attracted back to the family because of the publicity of Miss Burma; not because of Louisa’s mother, Khin, but because of her, Louisa, whom he knew when she was a child.

After Louisa and Lynton are married, they become soldiers in their fight to preserve the Karen population, but they are unsuccessful. Lynton is killed, and Louisa, who served as a military leader, joins her father and siblings in America.

The author writes that she is not safe visiting Myanmar because her mother is still wanted as a criminal. Her mother, Miss Burma, died in 2010.

This book reminds us that conflicts involving ethnic groups may never end. It is sobering, but the history and story behind the narrative is riveting, and provides insight into the current news about Myanmar and its ethnic groups that could never be realized through news accounts.

Students of history or those who are seeking a better understanding of a current political crisis will enjoy this book. It is fascinating.