Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig is the blend of family memoir and national history. Based on the true events, the book is about the life of the author’s mother, Louisa Benson. She was the two time Miss Burma winner and one of the important political figures of Burma.
The story starts with Louisa’s father, Saw Benson and his early life. He then get married to Naw Chit Khin, a Karen woman. Through their stories, the political landscape of Burma under British colony was told along with the harrowing events of centuries old practice of extreme Burmese nationalism towards Karen other ethnic groups. Saw Benson was jailed during WWII got separated with Khin and their children. As the wife and children tried to find safety in Japanese occupation of Burma, they faced various adversities in the mids of country’s turmoil.
Some years after Burma achieving independence, Louisa’s winning in a pageant got her father released from the prison. With her mother’s guidance, she participated in Miss Burma pageant and won the title for twice. She starred in some films and soon her popularity got her entangled with top people from political circle. She later got married to Lin Htin, a Brigadier General from Karen National Liberation Army.
When I read the article Craig wrote for LitHub in May 2017, I found out that Craig omitted some facts about Louisa. Craig fictionalised some of the parts and although she intended to tell about her mother’s story, Louisa’s parts were told only after 60% of the book. Even in the remaining pages, half of them weren’t focused on her. Her parents stories were told more vibrantly. Personally, I think Louisa’s mother has much more interesting stories than her in the book. What a fascinating character. However, I wish to read more about Louisa’s involvement in KNLA and her days as she led the Fifth Brigade.
Despite the compelling plots and origins of the story as well as its sensational characters, Craig’s writing is a bit dreadful. Her painfully overuse of em dashes and parentheses make me cringe. I believe such interrupters are supposed to use sparingly even in creative non-fiction. It was an intriguing read nevertheless. I’d recommend my fellow Burmese to read it.
The malignant of British during colonial era and America’s involvement after independence with its wicket foreign policies profoundly and traumatically affected Burma, too. The atrocity done by Burmese leaders and systematic discrimination towards other ethnic group are so sickening. As a Burmese (Burman), I didn’t know much about these issues when I was young as the history text books we were taught in school was orchestrated by those Burmanisation groups. As I grew older, I found out more about Burmese nationalism. I’m still learning and also trying to share with others around me about these issues occurring in my country.