The Lady And The Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi
“A masterly narration of the life of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi… The picture that emerges is of an amazing human being, ready to face down the savage brutality of the military junta with remarkable courage, drawing her strength from her Buddhist spirituality and her genealogy. She makes one proud to be human in her company. What a gift to our world and what a splendid telling of it in this book. We are deeply indebted to Peter Popham for such a superb account.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
“Not only a gripping account of the life and struggle of a great woman and her family, but an inspiration for all who read it…a reminder that we, in the comfortable outside, must not let her down.”
Rt. Hon. Lord Steel, Former Leader for the Liberal Party
“A fascinating biography of one of the bravest and finest women of our times.”
Rt. Hon. Lord Patten, Former Governor of Hong Kong
The Lady and the Peacock – The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi – by Peter Popham
Given the profile and popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi, it is extraordinary that it has taken so long for this book to be written. Here at last is an accessible and engaging book about Aung San Suu Kyi and her part in Burma’s struggle for democracy.
Peter Popham is a journalist who has reported on Burma for two decades, and his first-hand experience, including meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, is evident on every page.
There are few people in the world today who elicit the admiration that Aung San Suu Kyi does. Popham concisely takes the reader through Burma’s recent history to the point where Aung San Suu Kyi returns to Burma to nurse her ill mother, and how swiftly she went from being an academic mother in Oxford to being a nationally and then globally recognised political leader. Key events are told in gripping detail, based on interviews with those who were there. Popham clearly has great respect for his subject, but is not fawning or uncritical.
A real coup was securing a copy of the diaries of Ma Thanegi, a close confidant of Aung San Suu Kyi in the late 1980’s. Extracts from these diaries are reproduced in the book, and provide a fascinating and sometimes surprising insight into Aung San Suu Kyi’s early years in the struggle. Extracts show her bravery standing up to the Burmese Army, but also her frustrations with the challenges and privations of being on the road in Burma. Also revealed are the frustrations in dealing with older more established politicians in Burma, some of whom presented themselves as genuinely committed to working together to bring change to Burma, but in practice were driven by their own agenda and ambitions. This book makes an ideal introduction for those wanting to learn about Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi. These insights from the Ma Thanegi diary extracts also make the book a worthwhile read for those who already know the story of Aung San Suu Kyi well.
Also interesting are the accounts of negotiations with jailed former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, and other false dawns and broken promises over the past two decades. These have a particular relevance now with another President making promises of reform.
In telling the story of Aung San Suu Kyi the book also provides a good history of Burma for the past two decades, except in one regard. Like most books on Burma, ethnic people come into the book in terms of their inconvenience to central government. This is a very Burman-centric history. While events in 1988 and 2007 are covered in detail, there is scant reference to events affecting ethnic people, such as the massacres following the Bogalay uprising in 1991, the massacres and mass exodus of Rohingya in 1992, and mass forced displacement in Shan State in the mid-1990s which resulted in similar or in some cases greater loss of life. Of course this is a book mainly focussing on Aung San Suu Kyi, but ethnic people make up forty percent of the population of Burma. Their history, and abuses against them, deserves as much attention as events in Rangoon.
The Lady and the Peacock tells the story of Aung San Suu Kyi and the struggle for democracy, but it is a story which is not yet fully told. One gets a real feeling for the challenges faced by Aung San Suu Kyi and those around her, and the frustrations and difficulties that they face. Operating in one of the most repressive environments in the world. They are up against a ruthless and powerful regime skilled at playing divide and rule, and at duping the United Nations and others into believing change is just round the corner. The compilation of events of the past 23 years puts into context the events taking place today. This is a long-term struggle which sadly, still looks like it has many chapters still to be written.
Review by Mark Farmaner – Director of Burma Campaign UK
This new biography is a must-read – an accessible and engaging book about Aung San Suu Kyi and her part in Burma’s struggle for democracy.