Mar 10 2009
Having recently traded in the lush madness of Southeast Asia for the prim, snow-covered streets of Cambridge, I’ve been spending a lot of time in our Asia section–perusing the shelves for books and pictures chronicling others’ adventures through the region, gazing fondly at the photos of Wats and markets I’ve been to, and just generally daydreaming about lychee-flavored ice cream on hot green afternoons.
Recently, while lost in one of my Asian fantasies, I came across The Burma Chronicles, a bamboo-green covered book with a cartoon of the author pushing a stroller past two glaring soldiers with machine guns. Naturally, I was intrigued.
This graphic novel by French-Canadian artist Guy Delisle narrates the year he spent in Burma with his young son and his wife, a doctor with Médecins Sans Frontiers. The family is originally assigned by MSF to Guatemala, but just as Señor Delisle is making progress with his Spanish lessons, DVD’s of “El Star Trek” with “el Spok”, they are reassigned to Burma – “la ultima frontera.”
While his wife Nadej is traveling to MSF clinics around the countryside, Delisle and baby Louis become habituated to daily life in Rangoon, listening to the same Karen Carpenter song over and over while grocery shopping and attempting, without success due to heavy security, to walk past the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, or “the Lady” as the locals call her, on their neighborhood strolls.
As friendly and welcoming as the locals are with Delisle’s family, especially when cooing over baby Louis, the author lets you see the strange contradictions of living in a society that’s so censored and controlled. Copies of Time magazine have big rectangles neatly cut out of nearly every page, having gone through the mandatory censoring process, and his email account is routinely shut down, prompting a visit to a Wizard-of-Oz-like computer technician. During his time there, the government–for reasons undisclosed–decides to move the capital from Rangoon to a small, isolated village in the middle of the country. He even, briefly, fears for his own safety after a colleague mentions his name in a French newspaper article criticizing the government in Burma.
All of this is told through charming, caricature-esque black and white illustrations and witty cartoon-bubble dialogue. I was hooked, by the subject matter and his voice, and scoured the rest of our shelves for anything else by him. Luckily, I didn’t have to search very far. The author has also written graphic novel travelogues about his time as an animator in Pyongyang, North Korea and Shenzhen, China. His quirky drawings and wry observations about the insular world of expat culture, as well as his moments of culture shock, are very funny and even touching. It all made me miss being in Asia. Which, I guess, isn’t that hard to do. Next up, Pyongyang!Read more: Author Crush, Book Reviews, China, Graphic Novels, Hidden Treasures, Myanmar (Burma), North Korea, Pyongyang, Shenzhen
Nicole -- Nicole hails from metropolian Conway, South Carolina. While she's not busy doing Southern things like eating biscuits and heavily buttered grits (often together), she likes to travel to other countries and eat their food. Her favorite exotic treats include: Icelandic Skyr, South Indian dosa, British Jaffa Cakes, and Austrian strudel.