BURMA CHRONICLES reviewed by Newsarama

Burma Chronicles

Newsarama    |    Michael C Lorah    |    September 22, 2008

After his previous books took readers to Pyongyang and Shenzen, (former animator and) cartoonist Guy DeLisle travels with his wife, who works for Doctors Without Borders (MSF), to the politically controversial country Burma, also known as Myanmar. Though it doesn’t delve quite so deeply into the political situation as Pyongyang, Burma Chronicles mixes in political observations among anecdotes about child raising, sickness in countries with less-than-adequate healthcare, and DeLisle’s self-effacing humor. The effect is an engaging and funny register of life in a hot potato part of the world.

The political reality of Burma/Myanmar is unavoidable, and DeLisle certainly gives it plenty of page time: DeLisle frequently ponders the life and circumstances of the region’s most famous political “prisoner of conscience,” 1991 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi; copes with the complicated restrictions put on MSF and other charitable health organization in the country; and often discusses his dealings with security officials and citizens of Rangoon. It’s all done with a sense of humor, however, which may make the book less dreary for some readers, or less relevant for others. DeLisle’s not making any grand statements, however. For better or worse, Burma Chronicles is a document of a father and teacher living in an unusual land. When students in his impromptu animation class fear that their participation marks them for government rebuke, DeLisle works the scene mostly as comedic flight to obtain all the copies of a critical article that he’d given out to several colleagues and friends.

For every comment on life in Burma, DeLisle also talks about time spent with the other international parents, getting invited to join the fancy Australian Club, and the perils of unkempt Burmese airlines. The jokes are mostly funny, frequently driven by the irony of trying to accomplish deeds in a society that seems geared to preventing such successes. The cartooning is loose and lively, the characters distinct, and the storytelling clear. DeLisle’s easily able to capture the frustration, anger, humility or indifference of his characters with just a few simple lines, and his backgrounds are loose enough to fill in the setting without distracting from the joke at hand.

I’m not sure which political hotbed DeLisle intends to visit next, but if such locations continue to inspire entertaining and enlightening travelogues, many readers will be looking forward to his next venture. Burma Chronicles may not push the political as hard as many readers will want, but it does find a cartoonist at the top of his game as a humorist and observer of the human condition.

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