The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi

The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi

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by Peter Popham
     
 

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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

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Overview

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of research—including covert trips to Burma, meetings with Suu Kyi and her friends and family, and extracts from the unpublished diaries of her co-campaigner and former confidante Ma Thanegi—into this vivid portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi, illuminating her public successes and private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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Popham (Tokyo: The City at the End of the World) paints a sympathetic and well-rounded portrait of Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi in this timely biography. In 1988, Suu, daughter of Aung San, the man widely regarded as the founder of modern Burma, returned from Britain to her homeland to care for her elderly mother. Over the next six years, Suu—known to her fellow citizens as "The Lady"—would rise to the fore of the country's largest popular revolution to democratize, receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and finally find herself consigned to house arrest by a military junta, an imprisonment that would last for 15 of the past 20 years. Drawing on secret trips to Burma, meetings with Suu, letters, diaries, interviews, and published materials, Popham tells of Suu's meteoric rise to "the heart of the Burmese conundrum," her unwavering quest for democracy, and her unwillingness to abandon her supporters and party, the National League for Democracy (whose flag features a fighting peacock). In addition to recounting Suu's remarkable life story, Popham, a foreign correspondent for The Independent, deftly outlines the political climate of the troubled nation, and shows how this revolutionary woman became a global symbol of democracy, resolve, and freedom. While outlining her honesty, perfectionism, and commitment to nonviolence, Popham deals gently with criticisms of her efforts, conceding that her greatest strength was not her political savvy, but her moral compass. Photos. (Apr. 1)
Library Journal
The history of Burma since World War II has been nothing but chaotic, with uprisings, endemic social unrest, economic disasters, rebellions among tribal groups, and iron-fisted military rule. The military junta, moreover, carefully controls access to information for both the domestic and the foreign press, and travel in and out of Burma is very limited. Repression is severe and civil rights for dissidents minimal. Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Aung San, the first of Burma's democratic leaders after the war, has for three decades been trying to change all that. Her story is one of heroic and purposeful resistance, strength of character, prudence in her statements, and care about the welfare of her followers and Burma's people. Popham (foreign correspondent, Independent; Tokyo: The City at the End of the World) has written a dense and highly detailed book, as much a history of modern Burma as it is a biography of Suu Kyi. VERDICT Although there is almost too much information to absorb and almost too many disparate political and social "players" to keep track of, readers interested in modern Asian history and current events will find this book well worth reading.—James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, VA
Kirkus Reviews
An inspiring biography and a rare glimpse of what Burma could have been, and could still be. Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the world's most famous female politicians, is unusual in that she has never held an official position of power. The daughter of Aung San, Burma's national hero, Suu Kyi was a housewife, scholar and low-level functionary of the United Nations before her mother's illness forced her to return to the land of her birth in the late 1980s. Thrust to the head of the nation's protest movement, she helped found the National League for Democracy and led the party to a landslide victory at the polls. However, the results of the election were nullified, and she has spent most of the years since under house arrest. Independent foreign correspondent Popham (Tokyo: The City at the End of the World, 1985) ably chronicles the trials and tribulations of a nation that has been imprisoned and brutalized by an avaricious, paranoid military junta, an entity that has never demonstrated the slightest hint of concern for its victims' welfare. The picture that emerges is of a stoically determined woman of uncommon fortitude who gave up the chance to say goodbye to her dying husband in order to stay in Burma when her country needed her, and who has never considered shying away from the duty she inherited to shepherd her people to self-determination. Against the odds, she has survived assassination attempts. Finally set free in 2011, "she emerged, to the jubilation of thousands of her supporters and the relief of the world, into a new landscape where she had no role." In the aftermath of the first, tentative loosening of the military's death grip over the country, Suu Kyi's next chapter remains to be written. For now, enjoy this compassionate biography of an exemplary leader.
From the Publisher
“[A] rich new biography of Burma’s most famous dissident.”
NewYorker.com

“Peter Popham’s vivid new biography, The Lady and the Peacock, illuminates the qualities that have made [Aung San Suu Kyi] one of the twenty-first century’s great political personalities.”
—New York Review of Books

“Peter Popham tells this story superbly in The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi, by far the best book yet written on this elusive heroine.”
The Wall Street Journal

“In the latest, and very timely, biography of Aung San Suu Kyi, Peter Popham ably chronicles the incredible story of her life.”
The New Republic

“Peter Popham’s life of Aung San Suu Kyi is gripping, partisan and emotional . . . It contains fascinating new material and conveys, better than any other account, the stirring drama of her confrontations with the junta. But perhaps the most interesting thing about it is its timing. . . . The Lady and the Peacock is an essential record of the struggle for democracy in Burma before the mysteries and promise of the Thein Sein era: a reminder of the 49 long years that preceded eight breathless months of reform.”
London Review of Books

“Peter Popham’s richly detailed biography sheds new light on Burma’s heroine and the still unfolding struggle against military oppression she personifies. An important book.”
Joseph Lelyveld, author of Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India

“A masterly narration of the life of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi . . . She makes one proud to be human in her company. What a gift to our world and what a splendid telling of it in this book. We are deeply indebted to Peter Popham for such a superb account.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu

“This is the definitive and superbly written account of one of the most intriguing and admirable political and moral figures of our times.”
Pankaj Mishra, author of An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World

“A spellbinding biography of Aung San Suu Kyi . . . provides a complex and nuanced portrait of her on so many levels.”
The Huffington Post

“Popham paints a sympathetic and well-rounded portrait of Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi in this timely biography. . . . In addition to recounting Suu's remarkable life story, Popham, a foreign correspondent for The Independent, deftly outlines the political climate of the troubled nation, and shows how this revolutionary woman became a global symbol of democracy, resolve, and freedom.”
Publishers Weekly

“Peter Popham’s biography of Aung San Suu Kyi could not be better timed, as the woman who has been the real leader of her country is at last free to participate openly in its politics. This book provides a rich and often surprising portrait of Burma and of Aung San Suu Kyi and her family, which for more than half a century has played a central role in the country’s drama. As an age of reform seems in sight for Burma, The Lady and the Peacock sheds exceptional light on its prospects and on the experiences that have shaped its coming generation of leaders.”
James Fallows, Atlantic Monthly, author of China Airborne

“We live in a time of political pygmies, but even in an age of giants Aung San Suu Kyi would stand out. Peter Popham's The Lady and the Peacock provides a compelling account of her life and career. Her intellectual evolution is deftly sketched, her marriage portrayed without sentimentality and her struggle against authoritarianism carefully outlined. Reading the book, one desperately hopes that by shaking the hand of the ‘world’ leaders who now line up to meet her, Suu Kyi transfers some of her exceptional courage on to them.”
Ramachandra Guha, author of India after Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy

“If the generals think they can control Suu Kyi, they would do well to read . . . Popham’s biography.”
The Progressive

“An inspiring biography and a rare glimpse of what Burma could have been, and could still be. . . In the aftermath of the first, tentative loosening of the military’s death grip over the country, Suu Kyi’s next chapter remains to be written. For now, enjoy this compassionate biography of an exemplary leader.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Readers interested in modern Asian history and current events will find this book well worth reading.”
Library Journal

“The most comprehensive, accessible, honest, and fair biography of Aung San Suu Kyi to date, blowing away all previous efforts . . . The Lady and the Peacock will leave the reader inspired.”
Benedict Rogers, author of Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads

“A brilliant portrait of the most famous political detainee of our time, Popham’s book illuminates not just Aung San Suu Kyi but an entire nation as it makes its twisted, uneasy journey into modernity.”
Siddhartha Deb, author of The Beautiful And The Damned: A Portrait of the New India

“In this eloquent and evocative biography, Peter Popham supplies fresh insights into the personality of the stoic lady who is the symbol of Burma’s democratic aspirations. Aung San Suu Kyi’s success or failure is measured in terms of her own ethical yardstick rather than the calculus of state power.”
Sugata Bose, author of His Majesty’s Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle against Empire

“Suu Kyi emerges as a wonderfully human figure, adding a softer dimension to the remotely beautiful, stubbornly determined, unfailingly polite, and breathtakingly brave woman.”
The Times (London)

“A portrait both warm and objective . . . it will not be bettered for a long time.”
Independent on Sunday

“The first serious biography of Aung San Suu Kyi.”
Democracy: A Journal of Ideas

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781615190645
Publisher:
Experiment, The
Publication date:
03/29/2012
Pages:
464
Product dimensions:
6.28(w) x 9.06(h) x 1.46(d)

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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