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Everything Is Broken: A Tale of Catastrophe in Burma Hardcover – 29 Apr 2010

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4.1 out of 5 stars 29 reviews from Amazon.com

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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars 29 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another "failed state"... 23 Jan. 2012
By John P. Jones III - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I first read Emma Larkin's Finding George Orwell in Burma a few years back, and was impressed. One of the greatest writers of the 20th Century, George Orwell, was a policeman in Burma during the British Raj. His book on the experience Burmese Days: A Novel takes a rather sardonic view of the "natives." As the title to Larkin's first book suggests, she pursues the places were he lived and visited, many of which were little changed from his day. Her latest book is centered upon the impact of Cyclone Nargis, which struck the delta region of the Irrawaddy River, south of Rangoon, in May, 2008, leaving an estimated 138,000 dead. The catastrophe flitted across the major news sources in the West, for a couple of days, but lack of access, and the distance, soon let it fade into the latest political scandal (or missing women?) that are the more normal staples of the media. Larkin's book provides a valuable in depth view of the disaster, coupled with a useful update on the current state-of-affairs in Burma ("Myanmar" still struggles for traction in the West, as does "Yangon").

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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Burma, not Myanmar..... 29 July 2011
By asiana - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having traveled in Burma, and having read the author's previous book on Burma, I was not disappointed by this latest travalogue. Ms. Larkin, whoever she is (it's a pseudonym) reveals a country which, inasmuch as it is not part of the uprisings currently occurring in the Middle East and thus does not get much attention, nevertheless is a country run by a dictator. The arrests of those who dare to question any of the dictates of the ruling junta, let alone excpress an opinion which is not authorized by the regime, leads to incarceration and worse. Those tourists who now travel to Burma thinking that they are making a difference by giving a small amount of tourism revenue to the people should know that the money is going to the regime and not to the local tour guide, tourist hotel, etc. This book should be read and r-read!
3.0 out of 5 stars A rare chance to read about modern Burma 15 Dec. 2011
By M.B. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At times, this book was frustrating because Larkin (a pseudonym) wrote too much about her difficulty in reporting rather than what was happening to the population. She gives great detail into how non-governmental organizations in Burma dealt with Cyclone Nargis. Unfortunately, she was unable (because of restrictions on her movement) to give us much insight into what was really happening outside of Rangoon in the aftermath of the cyclone. This is one of the few books written about present-day Burma.
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Worthwhile Read 19 Oct. 2012
By Em Perdue - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads, but am thinking I'll revise it to five. I went into Burma last winter and have spent all the months since amassing a "Burma Collection" to study about the country in prep for a longer visit come January. This book is excellent in providing details everyone ought to learn. It's well-written. Hope to find more the author writes in the future.
3.0 out of 5 stars Would not recommend this book as everything has changed since the government ... 22 Sept. 2014
By Barton J. Gilbert - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Would not recommend this book as everything has changed since the government has changed. Have visited Myanmar three times and found that book is too dated.
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