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Everything is Broken: Life Inside Burma
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
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This is a fascinating insight into Burmese society. I'm not sure whether or not Emma Larkin set out to purely write the story of the Nargis Cyclone and got swept up and bogged down in the mindless petty bureaucracy, inaccessibility, and just pure frustration of trying to find out anything concrete about anything in Burma, but this is much more than the title leads you to expect. Larkin is clearly a very brave, determined, and intensely curious individual.

The Nargis cyclone was much more than a natural disaster. It was a disaster exacerbated by the mindless, careless, ruthless ambition for power of the rulers of Burma. Bogged down by ludicrously restrictive visa requirements, pathetic rule making and just general old-fashioned incompetence, aid never reached many parts of Burma devastated by the cyclone. It would be easy for Larkin to leave it at that, but we go deeper. Exploring some of the potential for revolution in Burma, and how the last best hope of the people is the power of the Buddhist monks, we see how even that desperate hope is fading against the ruthlessness of the ruling junta. Larking allows the reader to contrast the slow, careless reaction to the natural disaster of Nargis with the clean, cool efficiency with which even the slightest hint of rebellion is squashed. It's actually very difficult to believe that the ruling party could actually be this heartless, and Larkin does even genourously suggest that perhaps the very highest echelons of the ruling party don't actually know what's going on, as underlings censor reports in order to not be the bearer of bad news. Larkin calls this 'no bad news for the king'. Indeed, we see how new roads are laid out and towns repainted if the generals are going anywhere near them so it's depressingly plausible. (shades of the old joke about the Queen thinking how all of Britain smells of fresh paint).

This is an excellent read, much more than just being about a natural disaster, and highly recommended for anyone with an interest in Burma, or the mindset of totalitarian regimes.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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On the 2nd May, 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated the Irrawaddy Delta region of Burma. These communities of farmers and fishermen had no warning before disaster struck. And thanks to the incomprehensible actions of their ruling generals, it would be a full month before the international aid community was allowed to help.

This tragic event and the confusion that followed, as people inside and beyond Burma's borders struggled to help, despite the actions of the government, is where Larkin's book begins. Split into three sections, the opening part deals with the first month after Nargis, when the movements of Larkin and other foreigners was restricted to Rangoon, the former capital, trying to co-ordinate the aid mission with inexperienced locals.

Part two is more of a general overview of the ruling general, Than Shwe and his time in power, with a quick skip across Burma's history since the end of colonial rule. It also deals with the shocking events of September 2007, when Buddhist monks were beaten, killed, abducted and imprisoned after peaceful protests against the rising cost of living unsettled the government.

In both of these sections Larkin relies heavily on eye witnesses, some second or third hand, rumours and the propaganda-heavy official reports. As such the truth is very hard to find, giving contradictory views and murky pictures of a leader living in opulent isolation, blind to the suffering of his oppressed people.

In the final section Larkin actually visits the Irrawaddy Delta, six months after Nargis. At last able to describe the destruction with her own eyes, see the lack of support and take down personal accounts from the broken survivors, this is where the human cost is truly felt. These people have lost everything and still carry the burden of survivors guilt, seem so lost and hopeless, and that more than anything is heartbreaking.

In truth this book is not what the title claims - the true story remains untold, obscured by a bitter people, a callous government and a lack of answers. It's more an account of how secretive and paranoid the junta has become, and how little the international community appears to care. There are no answers or solutions to be found here, just a glimpse of a broken country whose hope has been destroyed bit by bit. It leaves one wondering how they will ever recover.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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Emma Larkin's account of the 2008 cyclone which tore in Burma, the subsequent ineptitude of the Burmese government to deal with the aftermath and the paradoxical efficiency in which it covered up the truth while ruthlessly suppressing opposition and protests is a disturbing read which draws you into a time and place which you know will not serve up a happy or optimistic ending. It says much for the quality of her writing and research which ensures you will read this unto the bitter end.
The book commences with a graphic account of the cyclone, then charts the apparent inexplicable attitude of the Military Regime to not co-operate with aid agencies, dwelling also upon the bureaucratic approach of some aid agencies and their senior staff on the ground. Then comes the repression.
At this juncture about a third of the way into the book Larkin turns to discuss Burmese history and the tradition of the way power is used in this unhappy land. This was most instructive up until reading this book I had always imagined the military to be a monolithic group of grey men seeing out some hidden and unfathomable agenda. Not so; Larkin reveals an Institution of Power through which characters come and go, and those who fall from grace are eradicated from history, this sounded familiar, then I read on notes she had written an account of George Orwell's Life as a civil servant in Burma. Of course she would have seen the parallels between Burma today and Orwell's 1984- chilling. She delves further revealing senior officials reliance upon indigenous beliefs in magic and spells.
The last quarter of the book returns to Burma in the aftermath, the hopelessness of the ordinary people's lives while the military pyramid of power remains in place.
Larkin is to be applauded for her return to Burma and dogged determination to remind us in this lucid, readable indictment of those in power and the exceptional courage of those who continue to oppose them, without any thought for their own safety or even success.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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My first impression of the book was opening the first page and seeing "Mandalay" on the map. This brought back all sorts of memories of stories of the Raj and half-forgotten family history.

My vision of Burma (before reading this book) is based on hazy memories of stories and history, of the British Empire, and of exotic lands.

This book tells the real story of modern Burma - or, at least, as real as one journalist can get in this apparently Stalinist State - ruled by a secretive military Junta for the past few decades.

The story is hard to believe, but we have to assume it is true. In Burma, all news is "edited" to show the ruling Generals in a good light, and any bad news is supressed.

In the aftermath of a terrible cyclone which devastated large parts of the country, the junta refused the aid offered by the rest of the world, and instead, for several weeks, did nothing. When the aid did arrive much was syphoned off into their own coffers.

The author attempts to explain this bizarre behaviour - as a result of years of mistrust of foreign powers - perhaps the after affects of the British Empire? But this does not explain (or endorse) the behaviour of a government allowing its own people to suffer, just for the sake of appearences!

A heart-breaking tale - and one that brings to light the reason for the long term opposition by Aung San Suu Kyi - and why she has been under house arrest for so long.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 15 August 2010
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I know the review title is terrible, but I couldn't think of anything clever. The book, is truly superb from start to finish. Covering the Cyclone Nargis tragedy of 2008 and the Burmese monk protests of 2007, Larkin paints a terrifying picture of a country under an extremely oppressive military regime. She paints a picture of terror, brutality and callousness on an unimaginable level. I wasn't much familiar with Burma and its military rule, and only vaguely recall the protests of 2007 and hearing about the shocking brutality used to quash the protests. The story of the Cyclone was new to me, but no less shocking when reading the personal stories of those involved whose lives were destroyed by the regime's refusal to allow international aid. The book delves further into the personal lives and spirituality of the Burmese people, and attempts to shed some light on the military regime and its history, but makes very clear that the regime do everything within their power to ensure that as little information on the regime escapes the country as possible.

Really good book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 October 2010
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The disasters of recent years such as Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquakes or Indonesian tsunami have all been massively reported and documented with global responses. This book looks to try and document and explain another recent and much less known disaster - that of the Burmese cyclone and more importantly how the Burmese government responded to it.

The book looks at Burma and the disaster of Nargis in three main parts over the authors trips to the country starting with her time in Rangoon just after the cyclone hit - looking at a time period where huge restrictions were in place to foreigners, while everyone scrambled to help the affected areas in any way they could - speaking to both foreigners and locals in the Rangoon area and collecting information on the disaster and the governments response so reading as a mix of stories relayed by those visiting and also of her attempts and time in Rangoon and what was happening there and sifting through the propaganda of the official media in Burma.
The next part looks to something of an explanation of the government themselves with some background of the general Than Shwe and the history of the Burmese government, and also their response to other issues such as the monks protests.
The final part of the book details her return around six months after the disaster when the area was starting to open up officially to foreigners where she travels to the affected regions to see something of the devastation and rebuilding going on.

All of this adds up to an enlightening report of both the cyclone Nargis disaster itself which I will admit to not knowing huge amounts about, and also about the country of Burma itself, and how it and its government operate in todays world.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 18 August 2010
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I've been considering this text for a while but wasn't sure I wanted to deal with the two-hundred and sixty-odd pages of misery I thought it was liable to contain. I am by no means an expert on Burma but I know enough about the country to know what to expect, or at least before reading this book I thought I did.

On the face of it this book starts off much as expected with horror-stories from this disaster of an evil dictatorship, the surprising things come in the personal detail and stories from individuals. The text is partially organised chronologically but it does keep dropping in bits of history and explanations of the past such as the 2007 monk marches and how independence was obtained, so if you don't know anything of Burma's history and culture before you start you find out enough by reading this book. You'll even pick up a little religion and a few instructive fairy-tales along the way.

There are shades of George Orwell (he was stationed there before for a time) with Burma appearing quite close to the world he depicted in '1984' where former members of the junta are excised from history and newspapers that only print good news. The 'Brave New World' of the recently moved Burmese capital is not quite as shiny as the dictators would have people believe.

This book doesn't contain much in the way of maps or pictures which, given the subject matter, is probably a good thing but it does mean you have to rely on the author's description of things like Rangoon, the Burmese dictator and NASA weather photographs. Fortunately Emma Larkin is capable of producing excellent descriptions and, after a little searching on youtube, I discovered the dictator's daughter's wedding was quite as hideous as Larkin described. You don't need to check on line for pictures of Burma but it might help if you're not familiar with the region. The one map provided is enough to work out where things are in relation to each other and the storm.

It's hard to say I enjoyed this book. I learned a surprising amount from it and not just about Nargis or the junta, but about Burmese culture, history, religion and people in general. If you don't know much about Burma t's a worthwhile, interesting yet quite disturbing read. Not a fully academic history, something that may not be entirely possible given the country's lack of openness, but one with insight nonetheless.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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Emma Larkin seems to have planned this book with the best of intentions, but the obstacles in her way unfortunately rather neuter the effect her narrative could possibly have had.

"Cyclone Nargis" doesn't roll off the tongue the way "Hurricane Katrina" does. But even the most conservative estimates of casualties show that it was many times more devastating. It happened to one of the most secretive, poorest countries in the world, a country without the infrastructure either to cope with a disaster of this magnitude, or to recover from its effects.

Possibly the principal point upon which the whole book is predicated is that the ruling military regime refused offers of humanitarian aid from other countries, notably USA, UK and France, who had ships stationed off the coast within a matter of days. It is presented as a "given" that this decision was just plain wrong, and although Larkin touched on the issue of culture and tradition, she doesn't seem to have grasped that to the regime, their decision was perfectly logical.

Burma is a country which has been "invaded" in the quite recent past, in living memory of many of its older inhabitants. It is hardly surprising (if probably wrong) that the admittedly insular regime should view such offers of help with suspicion. The USA, in particular, had been making rather aggressive noises about Burma for some time.

Larkin's book is terribly one-sided. It didn't need to be, as her target readers will already be onside, and, to be honest it would be difficult to present the regime in a particularly favourable light. It was rather disingenuous of her to continually imply that almost everyone was anti-government; her sample was overwhelmingly biased in favour of people who would naturally be anti-government, and you can't avoid the idea that much of her questioning was designed to cement her pre-formed opinions.

The book also swings regularly between a potted history of Burma and its political situation, unconnected news or gossip concerning the regime, and the effects of Cyclone Nargis, and as a result, there wasn't really enough about what this book was nominally about.

I don't entirely blame Larkin for this. The restrictions placed on her must have made her task almost impossible, but I do feel that she should have re-thought the presentation of the book. It was a good, informative read, but it definitely was not "The untold story of disaster under Burma's military regime", as the cover proclaims.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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Emma Larkin, the pseudonym for an evidently determined and courageous young journalist, has put together a highly readable account of how a natural disaster was manhandled into a human catastrophe of devastatingly unnecessary losses. It also covers aspect of Burmese modern history and culture that I would never have taken the time to explore had she not summarised them so effectively.

This is a tale of frustration at every level. On the one hand, Larkin's plan to shed light on the truth of the Burmese `cover up' of the scale of the tragedy of Cyclone Nargis (2008) was frustrated by restrictions on her movements . On another, the frustration of the people that despite the illusion of democratic process in 1990, saw their chosen leader kept under house arrest and the `show going on as normal' under the military regime. And of course, the frustration of the Burmese people and all who care about them that nothing of consequence has been done by the international community to help release them from dictatorship. Finally... the frustration that despite the world `waking up' to the plight of the protesting Buddhist Monks and the survivors of Nargis, a few `sleight of hand' manoeuvres by the Burmese government saw the heat drop off and the international community return to their slumber.

The writing itself isn't particularly exceptional and there are areas in which I felt that more detail was really required to understand the complexity of the subjects - but none of this really matters if Larkin can find a readership willing to learn about the plight of the Burmese. For that effort I applaud her.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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I'm not quite sure what the author had in mind with this book, a history, a witness account, propaganda for the Free Burma Movement?
From the cover I had the impression it was a first-hand account of the cyclone that devastated Myanmar (Burma) in 2008, but it leaves the impression that it is a pro 'Free Burma' movement book.

The first part of the book is a second hand hearsay account of the cyclone devastation. I say second hand account because the author herself states that all her information came from sources that had seen the immediate aftermath, like writing a story from information gleaned in newspapers. Her excuse is that it was hard to get any information as it was all censored and no access was allowed to the affected areas. She is extremely critical of the Myanmar (Burma) leadership in its apparent failure to deal with the human catastrophe.
There is also a sarcastic and unpleasant tone in her writing as she describes the ineffectual help that aid agencies attempted to give in the aftermath of the storm, as if the agencies did not try hard enough to circumvent the restrictions imposed on them by the Military Regime.

Then it gets better.

It becomes a history lesson of ancient Burma and of how Burma rid itself of colonial rule after the Japanese invasion of 1941, then came to be governed by a military dictatorship in the 1960's. We are even treated to the author's description of a visit to the military museum in Rangoon. There is a description of the violent clamp down on the Buddhist Monks, the 1998 insurrection and how the regime controls the population.
Considerable space is given to Aung San Suu Kyi who is still under house arrest and refuses to leave the country and go into exile. She was elected in democratic elections before the army resumed control and locked her up.

Finally it is back to the aftermath of the 2008 cyclone.

While many of us might know about the continuing human rights abuses in Burma most of what is in the book has been covered in our local newspapers.
The book is a Free Burma publication, written to highlight the abuses of the Burman people by the Military regime.
I did not like the style or the way the book was written as I began to read it, but the more I read the more it grew on me.
It's transforms into a good read and goes from a 2 star beginning to a 4 star end.

I wish it was more open about why it was written.
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