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The Lady in 3D
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.