A dogged journalist penetrates the deeply secretive dissident underground in Burma’s police state in this compelling look into a traumatized society in flux.
During her time as the Burma correspondent for the Washington Post, Schrank, now a contributing editor at the Virginia Quarterly Review, delved into this highly censored, authoritarian country of largely Buddhist citizens at her peril to record how the state has gradually cracked open to some democratic currents since 2011. She chronicles the lives of two “rebels,” rivals in the democratic movement, whose tireless struggles to effect peaceful change since the first student uprising of 1988—despite beatings, imprisonment, and torture—represent the efforts of an entire population pushing against the successive Burmese military dictatorships since independence in 1947. Under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was anointed by the people when she returned from England to care for her mother in 1988, the National League for Democracy began a well-oiled, tenacious freedom struggle—even though its leaders were persecuted relentlessly, and Aung herself was placed under house arrest for the next 15 years. Schrank finagled her way inside Burmese society, slipping by suspicious military authorities to access the leaders of the democratic underground, whom she followed in Rangoon like “a fly on the wall.” These include “Nway,” a 30-something Twantay native, chosen by “Auntie” (Aung) as a natural activist leader and able to organize protests and vigils despite being pursued relentlessly by the “Dogs,” the secret intelligence agents; “Nigel,” his charismatic counterpart and a teacher of English caught up in the political struggle of the “Saffron Generation” and radicalized by incarceration; and “Grandpa,” aka U Win Tin, a man of letters released from prison in 2008 after nearly 20 years and resolved never to renounce future political activity. Throughout the book, Schrank displays an elegant style and determined journalist’s diligence.
A remarkable chronicle of a multigenerational struggle in Burma bringing about important change.