A less-polished A Town Like Alice that—apart from its themes of affirmation and adversity overcome in wartime—describes then- nascent Burmese nationalism, with a cameo appearance of the activist father of Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize- winner. Basing her novel on a true story, and setting it in Burma between 1939-41, Vroman (Sons of Thunder, 1981) writes of beautiful Charity, who comes to Burma as the wife of missionary doctor Barrat Phillips. Obsessed with his work of ministering to the souls and bodies of the local Burmese, Barrat neglects Charity, who finds the friendship of the Burmese, both Christian and Buddhist, an increasing solace. One such friendship—with Hla, a former nurse at the mission who moves to Rangoon—brings Charity into contact with nationalists, some of whom are prepared to embrace fascism rather than endure British rule. Charity, though unhappy in her marriage, begins to adjust to, and even love, this very different world; but when the Japanese advance into Burma, she is forced to flee with her two sons and three-week-old baby. With an ill-prepared group of missionaries, diplomats' wives, and other expatriates, Charity begins the hazardous journey over the mountains to safety in India. Along the way, she's helped by the mysterious but quietly compelling Ba Than, nominally a servant but for whom Charity feels an increasing attraction and affinity. Food runs out, the children sicken, but they make it. Ba Than has a surprise for them; and though Charity will never see him again, he has shown her that her destiny lies in Burma, where the people ``were winners. Whatever they had suffered.'' The language is gushy, clichÇs abound, and the tone is woefully old-fashioned. But it's the descriptions of Burma, the Burmese people, and Charity herself that really give the book some heft and vitality.
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