FORCED TO FLEE by Erika Berg


Visual Stories by Refugee Youth from Burma
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Debut author Berg edits a collection of art from young Myanmar refugees.

This book of visual stories includes work by escapees of what Berg terms “the longest-running civil war in the world”: the internal conflicts that have destabilized Myanmar (formerly Burma) ever since it first gained independence from Britain in 1948. With this anthology, she attempts to portray that war using displaced children’s paintings and drawings: “They illustrate that emotions conveyed and evoked by a single narrative image can tell a story of a thousand words, open hearts and build bridges of understanding,” she writes. The images are the result of workshops she conducted with refugee children in which they drew their responses to questions about their lives in Myanmar, their experiences as refugees, and their dreams of the future. Each work is accompanied by a brief passage that offers historical context and some of the artist’s personal experiences. There are accounts of massacres, prison camps, executions, and forced evictions, but also of courageous escapes and assistance from strangers. Many illustrations of schools, doctors, cities, and landscapes represent their artists’ visions of life after the conflict ends. The book is a beautifully laid-out art piece with full-color images on high-quality paper, and Berg keeps the art and the experiences of the children front and center; politics remain peripheral, invoked only to explain situations. Although many of the images may tug at the heartstrings (or cause a sinking sensation in the gut), there’s an optimism in the work that speaks to the indefatigable cheeriness of children. The young artists are idiosyncratic enough that their distinct personalities shine through their pictures and, as Berg claims, they really do say more than the text. In one painting, for example, a group of smiling refugees stands in a boat crossing a body of water at night, with dark figures looming on the shore: “They woried [sic] about soldier,” 11-year-old Siang Tha Dim writes in thought bubbles above their heads. “They woried about, they might fall down!”

An illuminating work of children’s hardship and self-expression.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-9908910-0-0
Page count: 212pp
Publisher: Self
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2015


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