Review of Burmese Refugees by Pascal Khoo-Thwe


Reviewed by Pascal Khoo-Thwe.

Burmese Refugees: Letters from the Thai-Burma Border is a collection of short, moving autobiographical essays written by Burmese refugees living in camps situated along the Thai-Burma border. The book consists of 31 essays, along with a concise history of the country, introductory notes to three sections the essays are divided into: 8888 Uprising, 2007 Uprising, Ethnic Strife and comments on or footnotes to each essay.

The complicated nature of Burmese politics and ethnic makeup means that it has never been easy to describe Burma accurately or fully in one book. But the diversity also offers many colorful and unique pictures with scintillating nuances to many scholars and observers alike who want to go beyond the political norm and clichés.

Burmese Refugees is an invaluable and rare book that faithfully records the complexities and subtleties in the often depressing and hopeless situations of Burmese refugees who live in political limbo, and often forgot or ignored by the outside world until bad things happen to them. It manages to string together episodes of the lives of the refugees in a compact form without sensationalizing them, with excellent editing and deep understanding of the issues of the country.

The comments at the end of each essay serve as important frames or strings to hold individual stories and link them together like a string of pearls. Far from being judgmental or patronizing, they help the reader understand the wider context of each case. It is refreshing to read a book about Burma that registers and elucidates the pains, the sorrows and the aspirations of the characters with equal measures through empathy, fairness and an eye for significant details often overlooked by the characters themselves.

A matter of fact descriptions by the characters about their lives and the even-handedness of the editors make the ‘mundane’ stories more alluring, vivid and thought-provoking as they only ask understanding from the readers through their often desperate, naïve, hopeful voices, but still retaining their dignity.

Pascal Khoo-Thwe is the author of From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey.

*Original copyright for Burmese Refugees belongs to T. F. Rhoden and T. L. S. Rhoden; image credit at top of post via Hedda. Special thanks to Pascal for the wonderful review! Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence.