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From The Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey [Paperback]

Pascal Khoo Thwe
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Mar 2003

The astonishing story of a young man’s upbringing in a remote tribal village in Burma and his journey from his strife-torn country to the tranquil quads of Cambridge.

In lyrical prose, Pascal Khoo Thwe describes his childhood as a member of the Padaung hill tribe, where ancestor worship and communion with spirits blended with the tribe’s recent conversion to Christianity. In the 1930s, Pascal’s grandfather captured an Italian Jesuit, mistaking him for a giant or a wild beast; the Jesuit in turn converted the tribe. (The Padaung are famous for their ‘giraffe women’ – so-called because their necks are ritually elongated with ornamental copper rings. Pascal’s grandmother had been exhibited in a touring circus in England as a ‘freak’.)

Pascal developed a love of the English language through listening to the BBC World Service, and it was while working as a waiter in Mandalay to pay for his studies that he met the Cambridge don John Casey, who was to prove his saviour. The brutal military regime of Ne Win cracked down on ‘dissidents’ in the late 1980s.

Pascal’s girlfriend was raped and murdered by soldiers, and Pascal took to the jungle with a guerrilla army. How he was eventually rescued with Casey’s help is a dramatic story, which ends with his admission to Cambridge to study his great love, English literature.

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Frequently Bought Together

From The Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey + The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma + Burmese Days (Penguin Modern Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo; New Ed edition (3 Mar 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007116829
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007116829
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 53,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


‘Deserves to become a “Wild Swans” of this new century.’ Caroline Moore, Spectator

‘More than the record of an astonishing life, this book is a work of art.’ Mark Archer, Financial Times

‘Exceptional…In parts it is a thrilling and fascinating page-turner. In others, it fills one with respectful awe at the resilience and determination of a young man to fight despair and never lose hope.’ Martin Booth, Sunday Times

‘Extraordinary…remarkable. A marvellous book, full of pity, yearning and wisdom; stirring and terrible in equal measure. I commend it wholeheartedly.’ John Preston, Sunday Telegraph

‘Extraordinary…thrilling.’ Val Hennessy, Daily Mail

‘Extraordinary…Beautiful. A magical story, full of richness and subtlety.’ Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday

From the Back Cover

"A moving story that travels from a remote hill village to modern Cambridge by way of a brutal regime and the struggle of decent, ordinary people to counter it. A thrilling and fascinating page-turner."
'Sunday Times'

A member of a tiny, remote Burmese tribe famous for their 'giraffe-necked' women, student Pascal Khoo Thwe was forced to flee to the jungle during the rise of the corrupt military dictatorship. His lover had been arrested, raped and murdered by the armed forces, and Pascal became a guerrilla fighter. But a chance meeting with Dr. John Casey, a Cambridge Don visiting Mandalay, would change both their lives forever.

Overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles and danger, the two men strike up a scholarly correspondence that would take Pascal from the brutal hardships of guerrilla warfare to the hallowed world of Cambridge University. This is the moving true story of his extraordinary life and miraculous journey.

"More than a record of an astonishing life, this book is a work of art."
'Financial Times'

"A wonderfully moving account of growing up in a 'dream culture' in a remote Burmese village where it was considered natural to see and talk to ghosts."
'Sunday Telegraph'

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book, well written 5 Jun 2003
By A Customer
I could not replace this book on my shelf without recommending it to others. I haven't felt so sorry to finish the last page of a book in a long time.
Pascal Khoo Thwe is a determined, unpretentious but resilient man. He was born into a tribal family in a remote part of Burma. His university education in Mandalay is cut short when he is forced to leave his studies and his family, having spoken out against the corrupt military dictatorship. He manages to survive life in the jungle as a guerrilla fighter.
His life changes dramatically when he meets Dr. John Casey, a Cambridge don. Casey is intrigued by Pascal Khoo Thwe's enduring interest in English literature and arranges for him to study at Cambridge university.
I had expected to hear more about his time at Cambridge (it takes up about 10% of the book) but I now feel that the author got the balance right.
It is a humbling, shocking, eye-opening, but ultimately uplifting book which will stay with me for a long time.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Life Less Ordinary 11 Oct 2002
By jacr100 VINE VOICE
In March 1988 Dr John Casey, a Cambridge lecturer visiting Burma en route to Kyoto, was informed of a waiter at a Chinese restaurant in Mandalay who had expressed a fondness for James Joyce. Intrigued, Casey sought out this anomalous character, who proceeded to take the errant academic on a tour of Mandalay University campus, where he was studying English Literature. Within six months that waiter would be forced out of university after its closure, becoming a political agitator and then a refugee in the Burmese jungle, fleeing for his life from the forces of the infamous military regime. While entrenched in the rebel camps he sent an inquisitive letter to John Casey, who set about evacuating him from Burma and later securing him a place at Cambridge University. From The Land of Green Ghosts is his autobiography.
The three sections of the book deal respectively with the three main epochs of Pascal Khoo Thwe’s life up to his graduation from Cambridge in 1995. Beginning with his Edenic upbringing among a Paduang tribe, a sort of ‘Paradise Lost’ since the departure of the British and the rise of military incursions into the tribal heartlands, he later tells of his initial vocation to be a priest, and then his enrolment at Mandalay University, where in the dirty, hot and unclean metropolis he feels ‘tiny and insignificant for the first time in my life’. Very soon the political situation in Mandalay approaches breaking point, as the government twice demonetises the national currency, leaving many destitute. When the students begin to organise protests, the military respond savagely, and many civilians are either gunned down or disappear.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deeply moving tale - from Burma to Cambridge 9 Oct 2002
By A Customer
I really loved this book - it was written in a very poetic way and was incredibly moving - the story told by the writer who grew up in a very ancient traditional tribal society, and had to leave the country, family and everything that he loved, suddenly, when he found out that the Burmese army were about to kill him - his crime was that he had managed to find his own voice and organise democratic protest in his village. He tells this story without any self-pity - and with great compassion. It moved me to tears. He goes on to describe the terrible conditions in the guerilla camps that he is forced to flee to and the extraordinary chance brief meeting with a cambridge don, while the writer is working as a waiter in mandalay - that goes on to completely change the direction of his life -, and leads to him studying English in Cambridge. Fascinating story about Burma, about civil war and about having compassion for other human beings.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A resilient character 9 Oct 2003
By A Customer
As mentioned in other reviews, I found this book had quite a slow start. My expectations had focussed around this book being about the student rebellion that happened in late '80's Burma.
In fact the book spends a long time in the author's childhood. At first I wasn't sure this was the correct start but as you enter the book further you realise that it underpins a lot of what comes next.
From the period when the author entered the University in Mandalay I was hooked on this book. The stories about being a 'rebel' and having to escape from the Military Dictatorship show the degree of resilience that the author holds. His time in Cambridge is covered with no pretension, just highlighting the difficulty of the culture change, and the problems associated with his initial low degree of knowledge as regards the English language.
Having read a number of books on Burma I found this didn't cover as much about the 'democratic rebellion' as others. However it told me a lot more about the culture of the Burmese and the individual tribes that inhabit Burma. Something I found of great interest.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous Read 3 Jan 2006
My only disappointment with this book was that I got to the end! An amazing (unique?)story of courage, resiliance, tragedy and ultimately personal triumph. A recommended read for anyone over the age of sixteen. One of those books you will remember for a very long time (and may even change your life........)
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A very readable and informative account of life in Burma at that time.
Published 1 month ago by Margaret Rey
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A really interesting book about a country we have heard so little about.
Published 2 months ago by Mrs. C. Watson
4.0 out of 5 stars Escape from military dictatorship
The author, then a young man, tells how he was opposed to and fighting against the military dictators in Burma, where minority tribes continue to wage war against the central... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Baudouin De Witte
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insight into Burma under harsh military rule
An amazing insight into the the Padaung tribe by Pascal from his childhood in the jungle of eastern Burma to his graduation from Caius College, Cambridge. Read more
Published 8 months ago by lizzieanne
3.0 out of 5 stars Very descriptive writing.
Book was very good at describing the life in rural Burma but was not so interesting thereafter. Obviously an autobiography.
Published 11 months ago by Kathb
5.0 out of 5 stars The Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey
Very sad but interesting story which takes place in Burma. Anyone interested in that country should read this very true story.
Published 11 months ago by Rosamunda
5.0 out of 5 stars Astounding
A moving and compelling story about an amazing individual from a tribal background who survived a brutal regime and war to become a Cambridge graduate in the most extraordinary... Read more
Published 11 months ago by RT90
5.0 out of 5 stars Land of Green Ghosts
I bought this for a friend. It is a most interesting text, and the book is of interest to anyone with affection for Burma and for young people given hope out of the blue
Published 18 months ago by es
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational memoir!
I read it whilst visiting Burma and was very moved by Pascal's story. It was fantastic that his meeting with Dr John Casey the Cambridge don happened as it did and that from that... Read more
Published 20 months ago by felicity van loock
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book!
Anyone travelling to Burma should read this book in order to begin to understand the different culture alongside an interesting and, at times, exciting read.
Published 20 months ago by Vicky
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