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The River of Lost Footsteps [Hardcover]

Thant Myint-U
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

15 Feb 2007
For nearly two decades Western governments and a growing activist community have been frustrated in their attempts to bring about a freer and more democratic Burma—through sanctions and tourist boycotts—only to see an apparent slide toward even harsher dictatorship. But what do we really know about Burma and its history? And what can Burma’s past tell us about the present and even its future? In The River of Lost Footsteps, Thant Myint-U tells the story of modern Burma, in part through a telling of his own family’s history, in an interwoven narrative that is by turns lyrical, dramatic, and appalling. His maternal grandfather, U Thant, rose from being the schoolmaster of a small town in the Irrawaddy Delta to become the UN secretary-general in the 1960s. And on his father’s side, the author is descended from a long line of courtiers who served at Burma’s Court of Ava for nearly two centuries. Through their stories and others, he portrays Burma’s rise and decline in the modern world, from the time of Portuguese pirates and renegade Mughal princes through the decades of British colonialism, the devastation of World War II, and a sixty-year civil war that continues today and is the longest-running war anywhere in the world. The River of Lost Footsteps is a work both personal and global, a distinctive contribution that makes Burma accessible and enthralling.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber (15 Feb 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571217559
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571217557
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.7 x 4.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 358,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'A colourful history of Burma's past ... dramatic and
-- Entertainment Weekly, 1 December 2006

'A fine memoir, vivid in detail, and unapologetically emotive.' -- Irish Times

'Brilliant . . . a balanced, thoughtful and serious history.' -- The New Yorker, 11 December 2006

'Eloquently and mournfully recites the dismal history of the last
half century.' -- New York Times, 13 December 2006

'Fascinating . . . gives us both the savory details and the
cruelties of colonialism, as well as a feel for palace intrigue.'
-- Time Magazine, 11 January 2007

'Greatly engaging ... eloquent, often vivid.'
-- Independent

'It is hard to imagine a more thought-provoking or eloquently
written elucidation of Burma's afflictions and their causes.' -- Sunday Times

'Splendid ... writes with both the passion and insight of an
insider and the erudition of a scholarly observer.' -- History Book Club

'Thant Myint-U's passionate and personal journey into Burma's
half-forgotten, neglected past is a delight to read.' -- Straits Times, 23 December 2006

'[A] brisk, vivid history of Burma.'
-- The Wall Street Journal, 7 December 2006

Book Description

Combining both personal and political experience, this is a brilliantly illuminating and profound portrait of Burma. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
78 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written introduction to Burma 14 Feb 2007
The River of Lost Footsteps is mainly a straight-forward history of Burma, focusing on the modern period (with about half the book on the last sixty years or so), but including earlier (ancient and medieval)history as well. It is fast-paced, very well-written, and full of colourful, sometimes sad, and sometimes quite funny anecdotes and stories.

The book interweaves Burma's history with the history of the author's own family (on his mother's side, his grandfather was U Thant, the former UN Secretary-General and on his father's side the author is descended from 18th and 19th century Burmese aristocrats and courtiers). It also includes the author's own travels and experiences in Burma and recollection, such as his account of his U Thant's funeral in 1974 which led to a near uprising against the then military government. All this makes the book much more personal and interesting than a straight-forward history.

The author concludes (in the last few pages) which his analysis of present-day Burma and his criticisms of international policy. He is very at times devastatingly critical of the military government but believes that sanctions against Burma are counter-productive and based on a misunderstanding of Burma's problems.

There's a lot of British history this book as well, with a whole chapter on the first Anglo-Burmese war and much on Burma's colonial history and the British withdrawal from Burma in the 1940s. I'd recommend it to any armchair historian with an interest in the British empire, or Asia and certainly to anyone interested in Burma.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The River of Lost Footsteps 8 Mar 2008
'The River of Lost Footsteps' is a beautiful, eloquent history of Burma. It looks at the events from pre-colonial days that shaped the country's identity and allegiances, from various invasions and conquests to the rise and fall of internal kingdoms. It then looks at the British control and the implications this had on trade and the infra-structure and then lastly focuses upon Burmese life since independence and the struggles against dictatorship. Although my description may sound a touch dry this book is in fact very readable and is written in beautiful prose that really helps you imagine the life and scenes portrayed. The authors chosen chronology of the history and some of the unusual names created some confusion for me at times, but this is really a minor flaw in what is a masterly introduction to this fascinating and troubled country. This is well worth a read if you have even a remote passing interest in this country or region, you should not be disappointed.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The River of Lost Footsteps 15 Aug 2008
The grandson of the former UN Secretary-General U Thant, the author is in a uniquely privileged position to comment on Burma.
For many Burma watchers in the West, the situation in Burma is seen in strictly polarised terms, in which Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) are pitted against the demonical generals of the military regime, and any wider picture runs the danger of being ignored. Thant Myint-U, while clearly a believer in democracy, helps give a more historical dimension to this situation, showing that many of the problems faced by Burma today have their roots in British colonialism and the way in which the British brutally and humiliatingly deposed the Burmese monarchy, leaving a power vacuum that has never really been filled.
In fluid and eminently readable prose, his historical and very human narrative is interwoven with information on his own family, among the most famous Burma has ever produced. The final section is a reflection on the seemingly insurmountable hurdle the opposition would have to mount in order to get into power; not only an increasingly powerful military who talk at cross-purposes to democratic politics and whose support from China and India make them almost invincible, but (pre Cyclone Nargis) increased material well-being and a population the majority of whom no longer remember the events of 1988.
Although he is far from being an apologist for the military regime, he is equally dismissive of Western sanctions, making a persuasive argument that in a world where China is increasingly dominant they have little impact, and in many ways are counter-productive, as they serve to increase Burma's isolation, thus playing into the hands of the military generals.
Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in Burma.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best insights into modern Burma 24 Mar 2010
Post colonial Burma hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons. During colonial times Burma has more recognition, though shamefully it was treated as a part of India from full colonization until 1935. Even little Sri Lanka always had a separate government quite divorced from the Indian administration.

This book is part ancient history, part modern history and also semi autobiographical weaving in the author's own involvement through his Burmese UN Secretary General grandfather U Thant, and his lineage to the last king of Burma Thibaw, leading to U Thant's relationship to Burma's last popular Prime Minister U Nu and rise as secretary general of the UN.

What were the mistakes and events that made Burma a modern basket case for a military dictatorship given it was a land full of potential in agriculture and natural resources with a theoretical head start under British imperialism? Surprisingly the author does not blame the British except in a subtle way, starting with Randolph Churchill to whom the takeover of Burma was an electoral ploy with disastrous consequences for its history.

This book is quite gripping and describes the entity that is Burma from its very beginnings to its peoples and diverse regions. I don't think the book pays enough attention to the relationship Burma had to Sri Lanka. Southern Buddhism more likely came to Burma from Ceylon rather than South India along with a number of cultural influences placed in South India. This aside, the book charts the rise of militaristic kings who were the bane of neighboring states like Thailand. The capitulation of Burma to the British in 1885 is both shameful and tragic and brought the country under Indian rule.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Very accessible history of Myanmar.
Published 4 days ago by RS
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping history
Switches smoothly from history to current situation. Provides a good introduction to the country and its history and culture. Read more
Published 7 months ago by JM
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and detailed history of Burma
Excellent. Easy to read and comprehensive study of a country that does not feature too widely in British culture. Read more
Published 8 months ago by RT90
5.0 out of 5 stars A comprehensive insight into Burmese history up to the modern era.
I chose this book particularly because it was written by someone Burmese; I wanted not just the details of Burmese history but also the element of Burmese perspective. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Adamski
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative and enriching.
I thoroughly enjoyed sections of this book and found it very informative. However, I did not read it all, and concentrated particularly on the history of the country from the... Read more
Published 16 months ago by mazzeratee
5.0 out of 5 stars Eminently readable account of Burmese history
This book gives one a very good, eminently readable, overview of Burmese history. It is especially interesting from the first Burmese wars against the British in the early 19th... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Caroline Gardner
5.0 out of 5 stars Real history of Burma
I have read a few books on Burma, as I am Anglo Burmese (with a dash of Shan thrown in) this is probably the best one by far, written by the Burmese academic Thant Myint U. Read more
Published 17 months ago by edquinn63
5.0 out of 5 stars Burma from an indisder and outsider
Rich story-telling brings this history to life. Myint-U has a gift of transporting the reader through complex matters with ease. Read more
Published 18 months ago by MissieB
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, and fascinating.
This was the first book I read after becoming interested in the history of Burma a couple of years back. Read more
Published 19 months ago by A.N.Other
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully written book on a fascinating country
I visited Burma in 2009 and I really wish I had read this book before I went because it would have enhanced my experience greatly. Read more
Published on 4 Feb 2012 by Anna
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