- Hardcover: 271 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Press (29 April 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1594202575
- ISBN-13: 978-1594202575
- Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 16.5 x 2.5 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,589,937 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Everything Is Broken: A Tale of Catastrophe in Burma Hardcover – 29 Apr 2010
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)
The book is divided into three sections. The first covers the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, when Larkin managed to enter Burma, and watched the efforts of the International aid agencies to provide relief, and the dogged resistance of the Burmese government to permit help. Bernard Kouchner, then French foreign minister even raised the issue of forcibly delivering relief (and this was backed up by the presence of American, British and French warships). Slowly, ever so slowly, the Burmese government raised restrictions of the foreign agencies. Larkin has her own sardonic view on some matters, notably of the aid agencies themselves. She attends a couple of their "coordinating meetings," the bouncing around of egos, and even raises the issue of "adrenalin junkies." For me, the most valuable section was the middle one (and I note that one reviewer suggested that regular "Burma watchers," either from the inside or out, skip it.) Alas, I didn't even know that Burma has a new capital, Naypyidaw, and found descriptions about it, and its founding, fascinating. Likewise, in this section, I appreciated Larkin's background, and reasoned speculation on the "mindset" of the junta's current leader, Than Shwe. Observing the pomp and protocols involved with his daughter's wedding is a useful way of gaining insight into an elite that normally keeps its cards very close to the chest. In the third section, Larkin returns three months after the cyclone, extensively tours the delta region, and interviews a number of the survivors. In a country in which reasonable accounts of the "news" are savagely suppressed, the rumor that a human finger was found in a belly of a fish had a devastating impact on seafood sales.
Burma, like Ethiopia, is strikingly different than the countries around it. I've found both fascinating in part, because of this. I've visited Burma four times; regrettably the last time was more than a quarter century ago. It can be one of the most photogenic countries in the world, in part, because the entire country seems to be one big museum of prior times. And therein lays the tragedy. Having been trampled by the British, Japanese and Chinese, their xenophobia is somewhat understandable. But the result has been to mire what could have been a prosperous country, based on its natural resources, in poverty, and the extreme disparity in wealth between the rulers and the ruled has been maintained by ruthless means of oppression.
I've found Larkin's book a valuable and depressing update to the large lacunas in my "Burmese knowledge." As a final point, I couldn't help but wondering about how a woman, traveling on her own, in remote regions, with repeated entry visas, would not stand out to a very paranoid regime. There couldn't be more than two or three such individuals. Not to "blow a pseudonym's cover" but in the best spirit of George Sand and George Eliot, perhaps there is some gender reversal that keeps the boys in Naypyidaw guessing. 5-stars.
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