This book is a sympathetic but sobering account, told elegantly and eruditely by one of the people who understands Myanmar best. Yet the book is, for its virtues, sparing in its assessment of Aung San Suu Kyi’s record in office, a relevant topic for a powerful leader set for re-election to a second term later this year. If Myanmar is turning into an illiberal democracy like Narendra Modi’s India or Viktor Orban’s Hungary — which hosted Aung San Suu Kyi last year — perhaps we should not be surprised.
Myint-U offers a humane analysis as he reflects on national identity and the dangers of nationalism, and his conclusions are not cheery. Burmese people are consistently left at the bottom of the heap, says Myint-U. Their lives are a tale of “disappearing forests, polluted rivers, contaminated food, rising debt, land confiscation, and most recently cheap smartphones, internet access and Facebook pages on which they see for themselves, and for endless hours a day, the lives they will never have”.