From the Land of Green Ghosts: a Burmese Odyssey by Pasal Khoo Thwe tells a riveting story of the writer’s journey from a small town to Cambridge. Rich with cultural stories of his Padaung heritage and packed with real events happened around Burma’s late 80’s revolution, it is one of the most important books I’ve read in my life. I first read it in 2013 and was engulfed in the writer’s evocative proses and the things I had not known earlier about my country. This my third read and first time writing a review of this book.
Pascal’s family is from Padaung tribe, a subtribe of the Karenni from Burma. For outsiders, Padaung women are known as ‘giraffe women’ because of their necks being elongated by rings. In early chapters of the book, he shares his childhood through traditions and folklore of his tribe, religious beliefs as a Catholic, the beauty of his hometown—Phekhon, and brief political landscape of Burma. The reader can feel the writer’s love for his identity as a Padaung. He passionately explains the traditions of his tribe and stories of his ancestors. He talks about the bullying of Burma Socialist Programme Party, then Burma’s ruling party led by the notorious General Ne Win.
In the middle part of the book, Pascal recounts his time in Mandalay University in the mid 80’s where he studied English Literature. When he first moved to Mandalay, he faced some struggles as an ethnic minority in a city where majority were Burmans. When the regime demonetised some banknotes without prior notice, several people were in financial crisis. Pascal had to work at a Chinese restaurant in Mandalay to support his education. It was also the place he encountered foreigners and was able to practise his English. One night at the restaurant, he met John Casey, a Professor from Cambridge and talked about his love for English literature. He happened to share about his university life, too.
Then came the 8888 uprising. He returned to his hometown and became involved in political movement. He later had to flee with fellow students to the jungles on the border of Thailand, with a Karenni rebel group.
In the jungle, he had fought several battles— with the military, malaria, his anxiety and depression, etc. When a foreign journalist visited their camp, he passed a letter for the Cambridge professor. Miraculously, he received a reply from John Casey and they began corresponding each other. Soon the professor planned to help Pascal to study at Cambridge how they executed together.
The book is filled with one man’s tireless endeavour towards his goal against all odds. His honest narrative is the most admirable thing I read in this book. His love for Padaung cultures remained unchanged. Maintaining his identity while adapting Burmese traditions in Mandalay as well as keeping up with modern world in Cambridge. Every uncomfortable situation was an experience to gain and every hardship was a lesson to learn for him. The story of a man with many qualities: courageous, loyal, dedicated perseverant and appreciative, etc.
Though I managed to get back to reading, I have been having mercurial temperament in past few days. I have trouble writing a decent review for this book but struggled with it for some time. I don’t like forcing myself to things but I feel like this is an important book that deserves to be read by international readers. Besides, if I stop writing for a long time, I think it might get worse and my writing or analytical thinking will become rusty later. So I halfheartedly share my review I written wholeheartedly cause I think it’s not up to the level of my previous posts.