I’ve recently finished Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig which was published through Gross Press earlier this year. Set in Burma from the 1920’s through to the 1960’s we follow the lives of Benny and Khin as the country is thrown into turmoil, firstly through World War II and later as country looks set for civil war.
Based on the story of the author’s mother and grandparents, Miss Burma begins in 1956 when young Louisa, daughter of Benny and Khin is crowned Miss Burma. Louisa is the first winner of the Miss Burma event and really she’s somewhat of a political pawn to a military leadership wanting to show the world that they are excepting of all ethnic groups within the country.
From there we are taken back in time to the 1920’s where we are introduced to her father Benny, of Jewish Portuguese origin who has spent time in Calcutta before settling in Rangoon. He meets and falls in love with Khin who comes from the Karen ethnic minority group which has long been persecuted within Burma.
The part communicate through an interpreter Saw Lay at the start of the marriage and over time the three become good friends. Their world is thrown into turmoil during the Second World War, as they need to escape from the Japanese invaders. Surviving that they still face an uncertain future as British authorities who had been in charge in Burma before the war, hand over power to the Burman nationalists.
Aung San and his party take power, he is then assassinated and all hope for the Karen people and other ethnic minority groups is lost as the country is thrown into civil war, which we can still see evidence of even now.
Through this time we follow the couple and their family as they miscommunicate their feelings and get involved with other people. Benny serves time in prison and then is placed under house arrest. His daughter Louisa becomes Miss Burma, but there is so much more to her character than just a beauty queen. She loves her people and knows that she must do something. Along with her new husband she goes underground, to fight for what she believes in.
Miss Burma is a very poignant read, showing characters with all their flaws as well as strengths. You can feel their love for their people and their despair for the world they find themselves in, whether inequality and prejudice rules.
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