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on 12 November 2011
Aung San Suu Kyi was elected by a clear majority of the Burmese people to rule her country. The daughter of an enduring Burmese hero, she felt a duty to serve those people, but more than 20 years on she has yet to assume power.

Instead, a succession of self-serving military leaders have ruled Burma illegitimately while keeping ASSK under house arrest for most of those two decades. She could have left the country, but understood that if she did, she would never be allowed back. Staying in her prison was the only way in which she could serve those who continued to idolise her, but this meant sacrificing not only her freedom but her family.

Recently, the military junta has staged phoney elections. It has freed ASSK and a small proportion of its political prisoners in an effort to persuade the world that it has changed its spots. Tired of being a pariah state, its resources have been squandered and it knows there are those outside keen to engage with (and make money from) Burma given the right pretext.

Aung San Suu Kyi has to decide how to play this difficult situation, and it's at this pivotal point that what is by far the best book to date about this fascinating Nobel Peace Prize-winner has been published. I have yawned through worthy but dry biographies of the Lady in the past, but this one just kept me turning the pages. For the first time she emerges as a rounded, flesh-and-blood personality, rather than the remote, almost inexplicable ice goddess depicted before.

This process is certainly helped by Peter Popham's access to the vivid campaign-trail diaries of ASSK's former assistant Ma Thengi, but that's only part of it. Instead of sticking to a laborious chronological account of her life, the author explores those areas most likely to illuminate his subject's motives, philosophies, strategies and emotions. His style is journalistic and understated, and by the end of the book we feel not only that we know ASSK better than before, but that we have been given clues as to how she might approach future challenges.

What is clear from The Lady And The Peacock is that after all Aung San Suu Kyi has been through, she won't quit the stage without wresting from the generals as much benefit for the Burmese people as she humanly can. If you read only one book about Burma, read this one.
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on 23 November 2011
Popham's biography of Aung San Suu Kyi is a piece of well-written and carefully crafted research with interviews from the people around her who not only understand her actions, but many of the reasons behind them. These interviews help this biography steal a march on countless predecessors, which - whilst historically and factually accurate - are often anaemic without this human touch.

As always, Suu herself remains forever enigmatic, but that is part of the challenge faced for every biographer. Popham uses his extensive interviews to shed light on the woman trapped within the icon.

I found that some of the details that the author reveals of her earlier "solid and safe and decent" life in Oxford quaintly endearing - when her dreams, whilst doing the washing up, stretched no further than the creditable ambition of launching a chain of public libraries across Burma.

Much has changed in Suu's life since that time, but Popham helps us make sense of it on a much more personal level, which is high praise indeed for any biography on this remarkable lady's life.
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on 28 January 2012
I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to people who have an interest in Burma or in non violent struggle. I did however find the book hard going at times and often wondered at the value of some of the content. The journalistic style is informative and although I have read a lot about Burma and visited the country just over a year ago I found myself sometimes confused about where the author was leading me. He is clearly a devoted fan of Aung San Suu Kyi, as am I, but I felt this sometimes got in the way of objective research and analysis as well as the telling of the story, especially the impact of the political naivety which was almost inevitably shown in Daw Suu and most, if not all, of her followers in the early days. I wanted to know more about the obvious corruption that underpins the Juntas control and also how democratic nations like India, Thailand and Singapore justify their complicity but those angles were missing. The narrative is engaging and I now understand better the emotional pull that Daw Suu responded to by staying in Burma though the book suffers from her understandable, and well explained, lack of involvement in its development. The treatment of Ma Thanegi made me feel rather uncomfortable and at times it felt as if she was being cast out as a spy on little evidence for daring to differ with Daw Suu's approach to sanctions. I began to wonder if it was somehow not permitted to hold a different view within the ranks of those around Daw Suu and the book owes itself the duty to be more careful and more exploratory about this interesting aspect of the struggle for the right form of democracy for Burma. That said, I found the book informative, at times engaging and well worth the investment of time it took me to plough through its pages. I will certainly read it again and will hopefully find it an easier read on second pass.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 November 2011
Three major biographies were published in the last quarter of 2011 - "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson, "Deng Xiaoping" by Ezra Vogel, and "The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi". The first concerns a man who delivered access to knowledge as well as nonsense into the palms of virtually everyone on earth. The second transformed a giant country of peasants into savvy businessmen who now owns assets beyond the Great Wall. Who would have imagined during the years of Mao Tze Tung that "Volvo" would have become a Chinese owned company? Against these two massive figures in history, where can one fit the slim, demure woman from Burma?

For someone who spent 15 out of 21 years under detention of one sort or another during the modern era of Burma (an ironic term as we shall see) from 1989 to 2010, there would have been little to write about. As Popham himself wrote, "Aung San Suu Kyi's life tends to be described in a one-dimensional manner, as the story of a courageous woman who challenged a military junta and lost." Furthermore, she was often criticized as a woman who forsook her family for politics, and for running a political fight with no political acumen. She has been perceived as an obstinate person whose intransigence let her followers down. She who, in the 1990 elections found that she had almost the entire nation behind her and yet could not oust the small, bullying, corrupt military Junta. It was the kind of elections the Junta had hoped, in the words of Samir Amin, "to change everything so that nothing changes".

Popham tries to show in this book that the life of Aung San Suu Kyi is much more complex and instructive than the superficial understanding the uninformed might have of her. She had a fiery hero for a father and a calm, stoic woman for a mother, but her own character was very different. She was intelligent but not, by her own admission, as intellectually inclined as her father Aung San though she loved reading. A devout Buddhist she is a teetotaler but was prepared to experiment when she was a student in Oxford just to understand what it is in alcohol that has its allure for so many. She was brought up in a genteel life as a child and in her youth, but that life gradually turned into one that is inextricably wound up with the history of Burma and the fate of her nation. Burma cannot compare with the billions in China but its near 60 million people is a sizeable chunk of South-East Asia.

Writing in a tone and pace that exemplifies the nature and character of the subject, Popham ensures that the heroic feats, though not many, were inserted appropriately in his way of building the image of Aung San Suu Kyi. She walked through a barrage of rifle fire, refusing to walk by the side of the road as commanded by the Junta's soldiers. That incident created, an image, in her people's eyes, as a leader blessed by the gods. She survived an assasination in 2002. She lives and today embodies the continued hope of her nation. In many ways she was much more handicapped than Steve Jobs and Deng Xiaoping so her efforts must be considered in that light. Professor Francis Sejersted, the chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee said in the presentation ceremony in 1991 (she was in detention in Burma) that "The great work we are acknowledging has yet to be concluded."
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on 26 March 2012
I have read half the book so far and wonder if I want to continue.

Popham's description of Aung San Suu Kyi's time in England (Oxford and London) features far more creativity than there should be in a biography, which makes me naturally suspicious about the soundness of the rest of the work. I'm sure the main story-line is all right but it seems that the style is intended to be readable rather than accurate.

Popham seems to make the occasional sweeping assessment without it being clear what the basis is, I feel sure that he has doctored some of the quotes and his description of The Lady and Michael Aris as a young couple ... `their differences of race and upbringing dissolved in the hot sun of their love for one another; ...' is absolutely cringeworthy.
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on 23 November 2011
SPELLBOUND! There is no other word to describe how I felt reading this remarkable book.It is a page-turner, so cleverly constructed, with poetic imagery ( shriekingly green and fertile ), many pertinent allusions, lots of new fact, and a moving analysis of the essences of Aung San Suu Kyi's epic life. I feel enriched and curiously humbled by it.
Juliet Rogers
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Aung San Suu Kyi is a remarkable figure. She is a peaceful fighter for her country's freedom, a winner of the Noble Peace Prize, and an inspiration to many around the globe who yearn for freedom from all sorts of oppressions. She seems to be the rightful heir to some other giants of the non-violent struggle in recent times, notably Marthin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi. She is equally admired for her determination and resilience, as well as the simple and unassuming charisma that she has exhibited over the course of almost quarter of a century of involvement in Burmese politics.

This is a very well written and detailed book about the life of Aung San Suu Kyi - the "Lady" from the title - and to the much lesser extent about the Burmese pro-democracy party that she is heading - the "peacock." The book covers some of the lesser-known aspects of Suu Kyi's life, including parts of her private life that have been hinted at in the media but have in large part remained hidden. In fact, it's the personal aspects of her struggle that I find the most heart-rending and painful to read about. The sacrifice of separation form her family and the inability to be at her husband's side during his dying days would have been too much to bear for anyone.

Even though Suu Kyi is by any account a heroic figure, it remains unclear how effective her tactics have been in bringing the change and reform to Burma. Popham paints a very sympathetic picture of her political engagement, but after reading this book I am left feeling that Suu Kyi might lack the savvy and political shrewdness necessary to be an effective agent of change. However, this is all very speculative as the political situation in Burma can often defy all rational expectations.

Even though this is a very interesting and readable book, it is not without a couple of shortcomings. For one, Suu Kyi herself, primarily due to her severe isolation, been able to contribute much direct material for a biography of this kind. Most of the material on which the book was based comes from second- and third-hand sources. Furthermore, the arrangement of the material does not follow a strictly linear progression in time. The narrative jumps back and forth a couple of times, which can be mildly annoying.

Overall, I really liked this book but I really hope that one day Suu Kyi will be able to write an autobiography - and one with a very happy ending despite all the travails she had gone through.
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on 18 April 2012
This is a respectable biography, though there's a certain distance...

I'd use the analogy of a tv, or film, in that what we get here is mostly in long shot, showing her in the context of Burma's political situation, and a number of medium shots, primarily of her out campaigning, but few personal close-ups of Suu Kyi.

As a whole the biography suffers somewhat from the lack of Suu's involvement.
Near the end of the book the author gets the chance to rectify this by gaining a meeting with the lady herself. But all we get to hear of it is this brief comment, "We had a friendly conversation that was by turns funny, teasing and illuminating." You don't get a single quote from that conversation.

Nevertheless this is still a worthy biography of Aung San Suu Kyi.
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on 31 May 2016
I really want to know more about Aung San Suu Kyi more and this book is one of the most well researched books I have ever read about her! The details based on history surrounding Burma, Suu's family especially her father, and Suu's struggle for democracy in Burma is well written and yet it is not boring to read it at all.

A must read book to know more about Aung San Suu Kyi.
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on 3 March 2014
Having recently visited Burma for the first time this book filled in a lot of the gaps. Really got to know Suu Kyi as well.
I would recommend anyone who planes to visit Burma to read it. The descriptions of the country too are good.
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