The best books on Burma (Myanmar)

The Books I Picked & Why

Decline of the English Murder and Other Essays

By George Orwell

Decline of the English Murder and Other Essays

Why this book?

No surprise that George Orwell, author of the two defining parables of the 20th century, should be at the top of my list, especially as his five years in Burma attuned him to the suffering of the oppressed. More moving than ‘Burmese Days’ is his short story ‘A Hanging’ in which he watches a condemned criminal walk towards the gallows … and sidestep a puddle. In that fleeting moment Orwell marks the preciousness of human life and the heartlessness of power.


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The Burman: His Life and Notions

By Sir George Scott

The Burman: His Life and Notions

Why this book?

Should a Sunday-born man marry a lady born on Wednesday? To bring luck is a house to be built on male, female or neuter foundation posts? George Scott served as Frontier Officer for three decades at the end of the nineteenth century, but his enduring legacy is as a collector and sympathetic chronicler of the old ways in a country ‘where people are small and ghosts are big’.


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The Glass Palace

By Amitav Ghosh

The Glass Palace

Why this book?

The finest novel written on the English in Burma. Set during the British invasion of 1885, a poor boy is lifted on the tides of political and social chaos that shaped Burma and India.


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Golden Earth: Travels in Burma

By Norman Lewis

Golden Earth: Travels in Burma

Why this book?

Among the 20th century’s finest travel writers, Norman Lewis visited Burma in the early 1950s.  ‘Golden Earth’ is a bittersweet portrait of the then-optimistic, now-lost land – before communist incursions and military dictatorship shattered the dream.


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From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey

By Pascal Khoo Thwe

From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey

Why this book?

"Nearly every night I dream of the Shan State, of Mandalay, of the jungle. The landscapes of my dreams resemble real ones, yet they shift like images on silver screens…" Pascal Khoo Thwe’s mesmerizing biography stretches from his grandmother’s creation stories to civil war and a chance conversation about James Joyce which leads to a new life in Britain. A minor masterpiece.


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