This is a fascinating insight into Burmese society. I'm not sure whether or not Emma Larkin set out to purely write the story of the Nargis Cyclone and got swept up and bogged down in the mindless petty bureaucracy, inaccessibility, and just pure frustration of trying to find out anything concrete about anything in Burma, but this is much more than the title leads you to expect. Larkin is clearly a very brave, determined, and intensely curious individual.
The Nargis cyclone was much more than a natural disaster. It was a disaster exacerbated by the mindless, careless, ruthless ambition for power of the rulers of Burma. Bogged down by ludicrously restrictive visa requirements, pathetic rule making and just general old-fashioned incompetence, aid never reached many parts of Burma devastated by the cyclone. It would be easy for Larkin to leave it at that, but we go deeper. Exploring some of the potential for revolution in Burma, and how the last best hope of the people is the power of the Buddhist monks, we see how even that desperate hope is fading against the ruthlessness of the ruling junta. Larking allows the reader to contrast the slow, careless reaction to the natural disaster of Nargis with the clean, cool efficiency with which even the slightest hint of rebellion is squashed. It's actually very difficult to believe that the ruling party could actually be this heartless, and Larkin does even genourously suggest that perhaps the very highest echelons of the ruling party don't actually know what's going on, as underlings censor reports in order to not be the bearer of bad news. Larkin calls this 'no bad news for the king'. Indeed, we see how new roads are laid out and towns repainted if the generals are going anywhere near them so it's depressingly plausible. (shades of the old joke about the Queen thinking how all of Britain smells of fresh paint).
This is an excellent read, much more than just being about a natural disaster, and highly recommended for anyone with an interest in Burma, or the mindset of totalitarian regimes.