Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Burma Chronicles - Guy Delisle

This is the third book I have read for the Non-Fiction Five challenge and, like Maus, it's a graphic novel. I'm really enjoying reading non-fiction graphic books - I think it allows a much lighter touch with more freedom than a prose book on the same topic would.

Guy Delisle is a very talented illustrator/author originally from Quebec, Canada and his wife works for Médecins Sans Frontières. The Burma Chronicles as written as a result of her being posted to Burma in 2005 and Guy accompanies her with their infant son, Louis, in tow. The challenges he faces as a stay at home father are probably the most delightful snippets within the book and the opening sequence of the book where he covers the journey to get there is genuinely funny. He certainly manages to sum up the horror of long-haul travel with an infant very effectively...

The book is made up from a series of snapshots covering his attempt to adjust to ex patriot life in Rangoon and his experiences include the challenges of shopping, meeting local people, getting to know the other stay at home parents (who all seem to be female) and his efforts to join the nirvana that is the Australia club.

Alongside this, there are sections covering the political situation in Burma and his observations as he accompanies his wife on trips into the field a couple of times. The statistics on heroine addiction and related AIDS infection rates are absolutely horrifying and one imagines that the situation can only have worsened in the years since 2005. In sprite of the sometimes difficult subject matter, Delisle's ability to tamper even the bleakest of observations with understated humour make this book very easy to read whilst remaining thought provoking.

NYMag have a "sneak peek" from the book covering the pages where Delisle first attempts to visit imprisoned Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. This gives a great over-view of his gentle style and I hope that it tempts readers to read this book! Guy Delisle has also written earlier books covering his solo travels in Pyongyang and Shenzhen and I look forward to experiencing his observations on life in North Korea and China.

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