The best books about the Karen and human rights that inspire me

Who am I?

I'm a human rights activist from Burma. When I was 14, I was forced to flee to Thailand because of an attack by the Burmese military and ended up in a refugee camp. As one of Burma's leading democracy activists in Europe, I campaign for the promotion of human rights, democracy, and development back home in Burma. Together with my family, I set up Phan Foundation which aims to preserve Karen culture, promote human rights, fight poverty and provide education for Karen people. This is in memory of my mother Nant Kyin Shwe and my father Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan, who was assassinated by agents of the Burmese military.


I wrote...

Little Daughter: A Memoir of Survival in Burma and the West

By Zoya Phan,

Book cover of Little Daughter: A Memoir of Survival in Burma and the West

What is my book about?

Zoya Phan was born in the remote jungles of Burma to the Karen tribe, which for decades has been resisting Burma’s brutal military junta. At age 14, her peaceful childhood was shattered when the Burmese army attacked. So began two terrible years of running, as Zoya was forced to join thousands of refugees hiding in the jungle. Her family scattered, her brothers went deeper into the war, and Zoya, close to death, found shelter at a Thai refugee camp, where she stayed until 2004 when she fled to the U.K. and claimed asylum. There, in a twist of fate, she became the public face of the Burmese people’s fight for freedom. This is her inspirational story.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma's Karen People

Zoya Phan Why did I love this book?

We, the Karens, call our land Kawthoolei, which means "a land without evil." When I first came to the UK, Ben gave me a copy of his book, A Land Without Evil. After reading this book, I felt so much pain that I couldn't stop my tears because all of the suffering of my people that Ben wrote in his book were all true, and it brought back all the memories of our sufferings. For decades, my people have been brutally attacked by Burmese governments, but the world didn't know and pay attention in order to help us. 

By Benedict Rogers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Land Without Evil as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The gentle Karen, a tribe in Burma's eastern regions, call their country "a land without evil". They number between four and five million, and have been fighting for half a century to keep their land and identity. Many - at least 40 per cent - are Christians, and have suffered particularly harsh treatment. Burma today, and Karen State in particular, is a land torn apart by evil. It is a land ruled by a regime which took power by force, ignored the will of the people in an election, and survives by creating a climate of fear. It is a…


Book cover of The Story of Zoya and Shura

Zoya Phan Why did I love this book?

When I was born, my father, Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan, named me after Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya. When he was a student at Rangoon University, he read about Zoya and her brother Shura resisting Nazi Germany’s invasion of Russia. Both Zoya and Shura were killed by the Nazis. My father was inspired by Zoya's story and he wanted me to help resist the Burmese government's violence against his Karen people. 

By Lyubov Kosmodemyanskaya,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Story of Zoya and Shura as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Book cover of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Zoya Phan Why did I love this book?

I met Barbara at an international conference on human rights called Oslo Freedom Forum, in Norway, where we were both speakers at that conference. After talking to her, I read her book and learned more about the heart-breaking situation in North Korea. It was a real eye-opener for me and inspired me to see the courage of North Korean refugees who escaped the atrocities and speak out for their own homeland. 

By Barbara Demick,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Nothing to Envy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An eye-opening account of life inside North Korea—a closed world of increasing global importance—hailed as a “tour de force of meticulous reporting” (The New York Review of Books)
 
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST

In this landmark addition to the literature of totalitarianism, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick follows the lives of six North Korean citizens over fifteen years—a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il (the father of Kim Jong-un), and a devastating famine that killed one-fifth of the population.
 
Demick brings to life…


Book cover of Fifty Years in the Karen Revolution in Burma: The Soldier and the Teacher

Zoya Phan Why did I love this book?

I knew Saw Ralph and Naw Sheera when we were in Manerplaw, which used to be the headquarters of the Karen resistance, in Burma. As a little girl, I often followed my mother Nant Kyin Shwe to her workplace and remembered seeing Naw Sheera in the office of the Karen Women's Organisation. When I read her book, it reminds me of all the places and the people, and my beautiful childhood in, Kawthoolei, Burma. 

By Saw Ralph, Naw Sheera,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fifty Years in the Karen Revolution in Burma as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fifty Years in the Karen Revolution in Burma is about commitment to an ideal, individual survival and the universality of the human experience. A memoir of two tenacious souls, it sheds light on why Burma/Myanmar's decades-long pursuit for a peaceful and democratic future has been elusive. Simply put, the aspirations of Burma's ethnic nationalities for self-determination within a genuine federal union runs counter to the idea of a unitary state orchestrated and run by the dominant majority Burmans, or Bamar.

This seemingly intractable dilemma of opposing visions for Burma is personified in the story of Saw Ralph and Naw Sheera,…


Book cover of A Suffragette  My Own Story

Zoya Phan Why did I love this book?

This book is very important to me. It gave me more understanding of the Suffragette movement in the UK and how women sacrificed their lives for equal rights and fairness. I really appreciate those women activists. Because of them, women now have better treatment and opportunities in society, although we still have a long way to go to have more women in politics and at the decision-making level. 

By Emmeline Pankhurst,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Suffragette My Own Story as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

My Own Story (1914) is a memoir by English political activist and suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. Written at the onset of the First World War,

My Own Story brings attention to Pankhurst's cause while defending her decision to cease activism until the end of the war. Notable for its descriptions of the British prison system, My Own Story is an invaluable document of a life dedicated to others, of a historical moment in which an oppressed group rose up to advocate for the simplest of demands: equality.

Born in a politically active household, Emmeline Pankhurst was introduced to the women's suffrage…


You might also like...

Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

Book cover of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

Christina Ward Author Of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

New book alert!

Who am I?

For me, history is always about individuals; what they think and believe and how those ideas motivate their actions. By relegating our past to official histories or staid academic tellings we deprive ourselves of the humanity of our shared experiences. As a “popular historian” I use food to tell all the many ways we attempt to “be” American. History is for everyone, and my self-appointed mission is to bring more stories to readers! These recommendations are a few stand-out titles from the hundreds of books that inform my current work on how food and religion converge in America. You’ll have to wait for Holy Food to find out what I’ve discovered.

Christina's book list on the hidden history of America

What is my book about?

Does God have a recipe? Independent food historian Christina Ward’s highly anticipated Holy Food explores the influence of mainstream to fringe religious beliefs on modern American food culture.

Author Christina Ward unravels how religious beliefs intersect with politics, economics, and, of course, food to tell a different story of America. It's the story of true believers and charlatans, of idealists and visionaries, and of the everyday people who followed them—often at their peril.

Holy Food explains how faith pioneers used societal woes and cultural trends to create new pathways of belief and reveals the interconnectivity between sects and their leaders.

Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

What is this book about?

Does God have a recipe?

"Holy Food is a titanic feat of research and a fascinating exploration of American faith and culinary rites. Christina Ward is the perfect guide – generous, wise, and ecumenical." — Adam Chandler, author of Drive-Thru Dreams

"Holy Food doesn't just trace the influence that preachers, gurus, and cult leaders have had on American cuisine. It offers a unique look at the ways spirituality—whether in the form of fringe cults or major religions—has shaped our culture. Christina Ward has gone spelunking into some very odd corners of American history to unearth this fascinating collection of stories…


Genres
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5 book lists we think you will like!

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