The Irrawaddy Magazine (Mar. 2011 Vol.19 No.1)

Page 46

Love Among the Oppressed A Canadian author intermixes the story of her passionate love affair with an exiled Burmese rebel with the heartwrenching stories of people struggling to survive the oppression of a brutal regime By HNIN WATHAN


aren Connelly received her first Burmese lesson within two hours of arrival in Rangoon when she learned the Burmese word for beautiful: hla deh. But the beauty of Burma is not what she highlights in her memoir “Burmese Lessons, A True Love Story.� She focuses instead on the grim reality that she encountered during her personal journey on which she discovered not only Burma and its people, but her own true love. The memoir begins with Connelly traveling to Burma in 1996 to collect information on political prisoners for a series of articles. While her memoir does not include any discussions with political prisoners, she writes about meeting Burmese people from many walks of life—literary figures, a former political-activist-turned-tourist-guide,



a horse-cart driver and a nine-year-old boy working in a tea shop by the roadside. In the process, she learns about the draconian censorship that Burmese writers have to endure; she meets Burmese artists who are incredulous about governments that provide grants for artists and writers; she uses drawings in an attempt to explain what a condom is to a horse-cart driver and his wife who do not have a clue about family planning; and she discovers firsthand how rampant child labor is in many parts of Burma. When students stage protests against the military junta in 1996, Connelly participates in the demonstrations and witnesses the brutality of police and soldiers against civilians. After the arrest and deportation of her friend, a Swedish journalist, she decides to flee to Thailand for her safety.

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