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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 13 February 2002
This evocative book has haunted me since I first read it last year.
Rory MacLean weaves the story of his search for traditional Burmese culture (in the form of an antique basket)together with the tragic and profoundly moving lives of some contemporary Burmese. His harrowing and potentially deadly experience at the work's climax, takes his story and experience of Burma far beyond traditional travel literature, as his terror, on the one hand, and frustration and sadness about the destruction of Burmese traditions, on the other, grippingly recall the fear and loss of his earlier subjects.
As he was in his earlier works, the author, is an intriguing character in this book. His uniquely personal involvement in the story and first person narration make the experience immediate and compelling, and as the reader finds herself drawn into his accessible story of the quest, so she gains rare knowledge of what might have remained unknowable: Burma and its people. The basket story not only creates suspense and unifies the book; in a small way, it brings the reader into the drama and emotion experienced by contemporary Burmese.
This book transcends its genre, and warrants reading and rereading. I highly recommend it.
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on 22 October 2003
This is a poignant, sympathetic and deeply moving read. With grace and style the author has woven together living voices from a lost land.
If you are thinking of visiting Burma, this is a book to read before you go. Because no one should merely be a tourist in their tragedy. If you would never visit Burma under present circumstances, then this is a book to read. Because the people need you to hear their voice. And if you have already visited Burma, then you should read this book. Because in it's sadness it is filled with beauty and perfume and peace.
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on 16 January 2014
Fact or fiction?

Ostensibly the story of an obsessive hunt for a specific style of Burmese shopping basket, Under the Dragon weaves wonderfully written and descriptive travel narrative with fictional accounts of the backgrounds of real-life characters. These fictional accounts may be based on some fact, but the author clearly allows his imagination free reign in filling the not insubstantial gaps.

Described in the author's bio as "creative non-fiction writing", the distinction between fact and fiction is blurred to the point of schizophrenia. As the second chapter begins with a fairly graphic description of sex between an expat and a (too) young Burmese girl, I actually wondered if a technical glitch in Kindle had fused two different works together and whether I was in fact reading the wrong book.

So does it then matter whether it is fact or fiction? Do we need to pigeon-hole art in such a way? Should artists not be free to express themselves in any way they wish? Well, yes and no. Because sticking labels on creative works allows potential readers to choose (and is one reason why customer's reviews on amazon are so useful). I wanted a travel book about Burma. I didn't want a fictional book about Burma. So I ended up with half, or maybe two thirds, of the book I wanted; and a remainder which simply felt too divergent.

The writing is very, very good - descriptive, colourful, articulate; and paints an evocative picture of the goodness inherent in Burmese people which has been tragically crushed by the military junta and subsequent economic circumstance. The author's and his wife's obsession for finding their holy grail clouds their decision-making and arguably takes them beyond a point of sensible judgement. But that in turn leads to more compelling - and dangerous - encounters with a very dark side of Burma's current situation.

So three stars for the fact - naught for the fiction.
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on 30 August 1999
There are so many travel books these days - many of them feel contrived and band-wagonning. I had feared this might be so before I started this book - but it was the most beautiful travel book I have read. Totally enchanting and exquisitely written: I often found myself lingering over sentences and paragraphs, enjoying the way in which Rory Maclean had put the words together. I also liked the way he linked the book - alternating between his quest for the basket and the stories of the people he met along the way. I have been to Burma and this book gave me an insight I had missed. This is a book to read - and a book to keep! Brenda K.
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on 11 July 2014
This book is really a series of life stories. The wrap-around tale, Rory's quest for an old basket, is merely window-dressing. The real story are the bitterly sad tales - an old woman dreaming of foreign train routes, an ex-prostitute remembering her father's lost bicycle, a censor being wooed by a magazine editor.... It's a beautifully written book, very readable but also forlorn, almost depressing. This is not the sort of travel writing you read for inspiration before you go somewhere on holiday; rather, it's the sort of writing you read after you've come back, when you're trying to gain a deeper understanding of everything you've seen and experienced, and the people you've met.
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on 20 July 1999
This is one of the contenders for the Thomas Cook travel writing award this year and deservedly so. Rory Maclean's writing is as candid as ever and his descriptions of the lives of ordinary Burmese are absorbing and illuminating. The detail is often so fine that he must be straying into the realm of fiction to some degree but the quality of the writing means that he gets away with it.
The book has as its theme a quest for an obscure type of basket. This seems to be a theme for the sake of having a theme and is really the weakest element of the book. The reader cannot really appreciate the need to write about this, especially when the human political situation in Burma means that there are so many more interesting and important things to write about. Which is not to say that Maclean doesn't cover the political situation well, because he does. This, together with his talent for writing and the insight he gives into the daily lives of the Burmese he meets, is what raises Maclean above his peers.
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on 26 March 2016
A fascinating and moving account of the writer's journey through Burma in search of a traditional basket and the people he meets along the way who epitomise life in Burma over the last fifty years. Not a holiday journal! Impressionistic, personal, funny and sad. These real characters stay with you after you have read the book.
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on 18 November 2010
I am going to Burma soon and wanted to read a book that was informative but also gave me a feel of what to expect and Under the Dragon was a perfect fit. I loved it and would have enjoyed it even if I wasn't planning a trip. Rory Maclean's writing is evocative and easy to read. His journey and search for the basket is neatly broken up into chapters that can be read as short stories. As I write this, Burma has just had elections and Aung San Suu Kyi has just been released from house arrest. Rory Maclean's book captures Burma as it was ten years earlier. I wonder now just how relevant it will be in a few years time.
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on 28 April 2013
the book gave me some insight as to how Burmese people treat one another, how traditional beliefs and superstitions motivate their behavior and how they cope the treatment they get from people in authority. I sort of got to see how violent people think as they interact with average Burmese who seems to be inately kind and gentle. From reading this book I feel as though I have an expectation that ordinary natives I will meet in my upcoming trip will be nice to me. I am hoping that I will not see any examples of the violence that has been in their past. I am hoping the present government thinks that if they want the tourist to spend money in Burma, they have to provide us with a pleasant, peaceful vacation
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on 15 December 2014
Going to Burma I bought a few books for background reading. This one is very lightweight in required reading skills but grips in emotional content. Especially for those who remember what it is like to be a young idiot travelling to dubious places.
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