Cover Image: Miss Burma

Miss Burma

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Member Reviews

This book was a history lesson shoehorned into the form of a novel.  I didn't know anything about the history of Burma and wanted to learn but perhaps I would have liked this book more if it showed me the history through the lives of characters rather than lecturing about it.  I wasn't enjoying this book so I abandoned it.  I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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I know we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover but, let's be honest, covers are important. When you're browsing the book store or web page or Netgalley, it's the book cover that will make you pull a book off the shelf (either literally or figuratively). It's the cover of Miss Burma that grabbed my attention first. But it was the book's description, and its reference to the Karen people, that made me request the book.

In Mini-me's final year of college, he took a volunteer position at the Intercultural Senior Center where he met Karen refugees (among a number of other cultural refugees). It was the first time I had heard about this minority people who been persecuted in their homeland for centuries. When I read the summary of this book and saw that it was about these people and their struggles, I couldn't wait to read it.

The book spans decades, from young Benny becoming an orphan to an adult Louisa making a final appeal to try to save the Karen people. As the spotlight moved from Benny and Khin to Louisa, I sometimes had a hard time figuring out who the focus was meant to be on and I had a tough time shifting my own interest from Benny and Khin to Louisa. Which is not to say that Louisa was not as interesting a character as her parents. In fact, Craig's characters are all fascinating and complicated, as are the relationships between the characters.

This is a tough read. Terrible things have been done to the minorities in Burma, not just by the majority but also by the British, the Japanese and the Americans. Terrible things are done to the people in this book and Craig does not shy away from details. She clearly wants readers to understand the horrors that humans are capable to committing. The atrocities are not drawn out, though, because this is a story about one family's part in the Karen's struggle and in their own struggle to understand and live with each other. The fact that Benny is Jewish is also an underlying storyline that impacts the family throughout their lives.

It's always a good thing to read venture afield in your reading, to learn about other lands and other peoples. It's especially valuable exercise when a book is as well done as Miss Burma. It is an emotional work that was at once hard to read and hard to put down.


The real Louisa and her father, Saw Benson (which was the name Benny became known as in the book)

Only after finishing the book did I discover that this is more than just a novel based on historical fact; it is a novel very closely based on Craig's own grandparents and mother. I almost certainly would have read the book differently had I known that going in so I'm glad I didn't. But it absolutely makes me think differently of the book knowing how much of the book was real.
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A captivating, epic story of one family in Burma as they struggle to survive. Beautiful writing.
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I really wanted to enjoy this book. I read The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh years ago and that book gives you a little bit of background about the political situation regarding Burma (Myanmar). 
The subject matter is heavy and it definitely gives an intimate portrayal of the minority group the Karen. It was interesting to learn that they sided with the British against all odds. It was not surprising however that the British basically washed their hands of them. 
I think that in order to read a book that has such heavy subject matter, the reader has to be really invested in the characters; I wasn't at all. The characters were flat in my opinion. I understand that the Karen people are (were) generally conservative regarding emotions but I just couldn't deal with how stand-offish the wife was. 
So I'm sorry to say that I only gave this book 2 stars. The prologue was really interesting, but the rest was dull. 
I have not posted any reviews of this book besides here.
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Beautiful evocation of Burma then and now. Follow the history of the country which at times is very bloody, cruel and violent and the history of one family during those times of hardship and how  it marks each of them.
Written with great sensitivity, you can hear the characters think and see what they see. I knew very little of Burma and its people and now have a better understanding. This book took me to a distant far away land and I am sorry to have left it so soon. Hopefully a sequel soon?
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I loved this book and so will you if you like historical fiction and family sagas set somewhere you likely know little about.  Craig, through Benny, Khin, and Louisa, brings Burma to life.  This is beautifully and sensitively written.  The characters are terrific but frankly I found it most interesting as a portrait of a nation and a people who dealt and continue to deal with tremendous conflict.  The fascinating part to me was how Craig was able to take us on the family's journey in a thoughtful and non-judgmental way.  Thanks to Grove for the ARC.  Please try this one- it deserves a good read.
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This novel presents an absorbing iteration of the history of Burma/Myanmar from the 1930's to nearly the present day.  The story is seen through the eyes of a family who rose from very humble origins to the center of the political upheavals that have engulfed this southeast asian nation for the lat one hundred year.  I would recommend this novel to anyone who has an interest in the broad brushed canvas of Burma/Myanmar.
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Miss Burma opens with an attention-grabbing prologue that sees fifteen-year-old Louisa, a young woman of mixed racial heritage, crowned in her country’s first national beauty pageant in 1956. This short scene raises many impossible-to-ignore questions. Why is her father under house arrest? Why do soldiers with rifles stand in the audience? Moreover, how does Louisa feel about representing Burma like this, at this time, and what are the consequences?

These issues, and many more, are addressed with striking perceptiveness and poignancy in Craig’s second novel, which is based on the courageous lives of her mother and grandparents. The storyline spans four decades in Burma, the ‘20s through the ‘60s, years which saw considerable political unrest and violence during the Japanese invasion in WWII and subsequent civil war—a lengthy conflict that remains largely hidden to the Western world. The author evokes the protagonists’ innermost selves with uncommon candor and provides a sense of realism so vivid that it reads like a lived experience.

Louisa’s parents are an unlikely couple. Benny comes from a Portuguese Jewish family; Khin belongs to an ethnic group, the Karen (pronounced Kar-EN), who have long been oppressed by her country’s Burman majority but are favored by the British during their colonial rule. In their impulsive marriage’s early years, Benny and Khin need an interpreter to communicate. As Burman nationalism overtakes the country, their relationship and family life—which include relocations through beautiful but harsh terrain, concealments, and forced separations—are tied to Burma’s internal battles. The complicated history is coherently explained, and the novel offers powerful commentary on the Karens and their situation: pawns in the games of global power politics, yet with a determined “mandate to survive.”

This epic yet deeply personal novel about war, love, loyalty, and heroism deserves to be widely read, especially by anyone unfamiliar with this history.

(from the Historical Novels Review's May 2017 issue)
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“Miss Burma” is a primer in the history of modern Burma. A fascinating, harrowing mix of both the personal and the political, it challenged many of my western preconceptions, and reminds me that history is written by the winner.
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Charmaine Craig delivers a memorable novel about an area that rarely gets the mainstream attention it deserves! With vivid descriptions and deep insight into political tensions, this was riveting!
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This was a beautiful and moving story. I did not know a lot of this history, so it was all very interesting and enlightening for me. The ethnic and political struggles were captivating, but the personal and relationship struggles conveyed were even more so.
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I found this book difficult to enjoy but factually it was very interesting. I was slower to read it as it took concentration and at times was a bit of a slog. It was very heavy going although but I felt I learnt about the Burmese culture.
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I picked this book on Netgalley because it was set in Burma and I so want to know more about the country. I was not disappointed at all.
It is a beautiful and harsh story with an independence war as a background, and a country torn between ethnic fights and struggles. It was even more interesting as it was based on the real story of the author's mother and grandparents, which made go and investigate what was real from the plot.

It depicts the difficulties of personal relations in times of struggle, what it is like to be a minority either by birth or by choice. A very current book, that makes us look at the world as a whole and as something very particular.

Recommended to all Asia lovers, people who love current events, and whoever likes a story well told.
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This book takes us through a journey of many years through the history of Burma (now called Myanmar.) It begins with a Miss Burma contest then goes back time over twenty years to see the history of Miss Burma's Jewish father (Benny) and the eventual meeting and marriage of her parents. Khin, Miss Burma's mother, is an ethnic Karen (emphasis on the second part of the word rather than the first as is common in the English language) which is to refer to a number of Sino-Tibetan speaking groups, many of which do not share a common culture. Their relationship wasn't so much romance as more the tale of a man carried away with the beauty of a woman and proposing marriage immediately, without actually getting to know the woman he was pledging himself to.

The marriage between Benny and Khin starts off with them barely able to communicate but very much one of love but it is many years before they are able to freely talk. Louisa (Miss Burma) is their first child and life appears to be golden, but the reality of Khin being part of a minority in Burma puts the relationship under pressure. Benny is a wise business man and Khin is a dutiful wife, overlooking many of Benny's faults. There is much infidelity and bad choices made by both Benny and Khin, although it tends to be tinged with the decision being made because of the war rather than with malice. And there is a certain sadness at seeing a loving relationship unravel due to the pressures of ongoing conflict.

We go from World War Two to the civil war between ethnic groups that wanted the annihilation of other groups. This book fits a lot of history into its 368 pages, mostly which is largely unknown to people in Western nations. The long term effects of conflict on children is explored and clearly seen in this novel. Louisa has abandonment issues and finds it hard to trust anyone. She wins her country's first beauty pageant but does it more to please her warring parents rather than any real desire to win for pure pleasure. She also accepts an unwise marriage proposal in a bid to escape her parents clutches and their emotional mess, which begins the same cycle again. It does end with Louisa finding her place in the world, which is gut wrenching and exhilarating at the same time.

I found this to be a fascinating book, learning about a history through the lives of people actually related to the author, making this an 'own voice' book. It made a complicated history flow much more smoothly for the reader, as it takes us through 68 years of history in 22 chapters. Fascinating and beautiful, Miss Burma is a book well worth the read.
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