The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyiby Peter Popham
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi—known to the world as an icon for democracy and nonviolent dissent in oppressed Burma, and to her followers as simply “The Lady”—has recently returned to international headlines. Now, this major new biography offers essential reading at a moment when Burma, after decades of stagnation, is once
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi—known to the world as an icon for democracy and nonviolent dissent in oppressed Burma, and to her followers as simply “The Lady”—has recently returned to international headlines. Now, this major new biography offers essential reading at a moment when Burma, after decades of stagnation, is once again in flux.
Suu Kyi’s remarkable life begins with that of her father, Aung San. The architect of Burma’s independence, he was assassinated when she was only two. Suu Kyi grew up in India (where her mother served as ambassador), studied at Oxford, and worked for three years at the UN in New York. In 1972, she married Michael Aris, a British scholar. They had two sons, and for several years she lived as a self-described “housewife”—but she never forgot that she was the daughter of Burma’s national hero.
In April 1988, Suu Kyi returned to Burma to nurse her sick mother. Within six months, she was leading the largest popular revolt in the country’s history. She was put under house arrest by the regime, but her party won a landslide victory in the 1990 elections, which the regime refused to recognize. In 1991, still under arrest, she received the Nobel Peace Prize. Altogether, she has spent over fifteen years in detention and narrowly escaped assassination twice.
Peter Popham distills five years of research—including covert trips to Burma, meetings with Suu Kyi and her friends and family, and extracts from the unpublished diaries of her co-campaigner and former confidante Ma Thanegi—into this vivid portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi, illuminating her public successes and private sorrows, her intellect and enduring sense of humor, her commitment to peaceful revolution, and the extreme price she has paid for it.
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Meet the Author
Peter Popham has toured Burma as an undercover journalist several times since his first visit to the country in 1991. A foreign correspondent and feature writer for the Independent for more than twenty years, he has reported from locations around the world, including South Asia. He is also the author of Tokyo: The City at the End of the World. Married, with two children, Popham lives and works in both London and Milan.
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Aung San Suu Kyi is a remarkable figure. She is a peaceful fighter for her country’s freedom, a winner of the Noble Peace Prize, and an inspiration to many around the globe who yearn for freedom from all sorts of oppressions. She seems to be the rightful heir to some other giants of the non-violent struggle in recent times, notably Marthin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi. She is equally admired for her determination and resilience, as well as the simple and unassuming charisma that she has exhibited over the course of almost quarter of a century of involvement in Burmese politics. This is a very well written and detailed book about the life of Aung San Suu Kyi – the “Lady” from the title – and to the much lesser extent about the Burmese pro-democracy party that she is heading – the “peacock.” The book covers some of the lesser-known aspects of Suu Kyi’s life, including parts of her private life that have been hinted at in the media but have in large part remained hidden. In fact, it’s the personal aspects of her struggle that I find the most heart-rending and painful to read about. The sacrifice of separation form her family and the inability to be at her husband’s side during his dying days would have been too much to bear for anyone. Even though Suu Kyi is by any account a heroic figure, it remains unclear how effective her tactics have been in bringing the change and reform to Burma. Popham paints a very sympathetic picture of her political engagement, but after reading this book I am left feeling that Suu Kyi might lack the savvy and political shrewdness necessary to be an effective agent of change. However, this is all very speculative as the political situation in Burma can often defy all rational expectations. Even though this is a very interesting and readable book, it is not without a couple of shortcomings. For one, Suu Kyi herself, primarily due to her severe isolation, been able to contribute much direct material for a biography of this kind. Most of the material on which the book was based comes from second- and third-hand sources. Furthermore, the arrangement of the material does not follow a strictly linear progression in time. The narrative jumps back and forth a couple of times, which can be mildly annoying. Overall, I really liked this book but I really hope that one day Suu Kyi will be able to write an autobiography – and one with a very happy ending despite all the travails she had gone through.