The King in Exile, The Fall of the Royal Family of Burma
by Sudha Shah
I just finished reading this excellent book about the last king of Burma (Myanmar). It is well researched and full of details about the times and about the family up until modern day. The last King of Burma, King Thibaw, was deposed by the British in 1885, and exiled to Ratnagiri on the west coast of India. He, his two wives and four daughters lived in a small palace basically as prisoners. He was not allowed to leave his house without permission. He was given a small allowance to live on and pretty much ignored. His sad life ended in 1916. Three years later his queen (his second wife died before him) and daughters were allowed to return to Burma but only to the capital of Rangoon, not to their former home in Mandalay. Two of the daughters remained in India and two went back to Burma with their mother. The saga continues through their children and grandchildren. It was not a happy life and a constant struggle to meet their debts. Although it is non-fiction and historical, it is not dull. The author does a good job to hold your interest.
Other books about Burma:
The Glass Palace
by Amitav Ghosh This book is historical fiction about the same time period as The King in Exile. It goes into the fate of the king but also tells the story of colonialism in the area covering Burma, India and Malaya. I read it a while ago and remember I did skim over parts of it but I also remember it really captured the deposed king’s despair. If you like historical fiction sagas that have it all, you would probably love this one.
The Golden Land
by Elizabeth Shick
This is pure fiction about a Burmese American woman who goes back to Burma in search of her roots, her childhood, her family. She has memories of spending time in Burma twenty five years earlier and a boy who influenced her. She returns looking for her sister but also for him. It has suspense, intrigue, love, history, politics. It is a good read. Interestingly enough it is the first book written by a serial expat who lived in Burma for six years.
by Charmaine Craig
This one came highly recommended to me. I have not read it yet. It tells the story of a family and their eldest daughter who wins the first Miss Burma beauty pageant. The beauty pageant was held from 1947 to 1962 when the government banned it. (Interesting fact, one of King Thibaw’s grandsons started the beauty pageant. I learned about that in The King in Exile). This book is about an ethnic Karen woman who struggles with her new fame, civil war and unstable politics of the time.
Golden Earth: Travels in Burma
by Lewis Norman
Shortly after World War II, Lewis Norman travels throughout Burma documenting all he sees. It was a very unstable time in Burma with insurgents running around killing people. He writes about the politics but also about the people and the beauty of the land. He went there specifically because he was afraid it was a county that would be closed to outsiders at some point soon. He was right.
The Lady from Burma
by Allison Montclair
This is a murder mystery I came across by accident. It probably doesn’t have anything to do with Burma but looks like a real nail biter.
And if you are interested….
Aung San of Burma: A Biographical Portrait by His Daughter
by Aung San Suu Kyi Aung San was the man who made Burmese independence from the British possible. He is a revered hero in Burma. This is non-fiction.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s opposition leader and Nobel Prize winner has written several books about her plight and that of Burmas itself.
You can now travel to Burma as a tourist and many tour groups have trips going there. They mostly go to Rangoon (Yangon), Mandalay, Inlye Lake, and Pagan (Bagan). I was born in Burma to a expat parents and my family lived there off and on until the coup of 1962.
As of July 2023, the US State Department travel advisory page states:
Do not travel to Burma due to civil unrest and armed conflict. Reconsider travel to Burma due to limited and/or inadequate healthcare resources. Exercise increased caution due to wrongful detentions and areas with land mines and unexploded ordnance.