The River of Lost Footsteps by Thant Myint-U (thoughts)
I am a big fan of nonfiction books about Burma, so when I heard about The River of Lost Footsteps by Thant Myint-U, I just to request it from my library. For some reason, I thought it was going to be a memoir by a Burmese Buddhist monk, when in fact it’s a fascinating blend of Burmese history and political science with a leavening of more person stories from the grandson of former UN General-Secretary U Thant. Thant Myint-U essentially set out to contextualise Burma’s current situation by looking at its origins of nationhood and, later, military culture. He also traces the impact of foreign powers on Burma’s development and concludes with an argument for the international community to stop cutting Burma off due to the strategy’s ineffectiveness.
If you’re a regular reader, you’ve probably already guessed what I’m about to say: I loved this book! I’m a total international relations nerd, and any author that feeds my fascination for world politics and history as effectively as Thant Myint-U did has my respect. But The River of Lost Footsteps is aimed at a popular audience, so you don’t need to have any background at all in order to appreciate and enjoy it. The writing style is what I’d call ‘smart conversational’: more engaging than a traditional lecture but still full of well-turned phrases. Burma is really at a crossroads, and throughout the centuries it has had some giant cultural neighbours (not to mention being quite a power in its own right), so its history is really intriguing. This is definitely more of a ‘traditional’ history book, with a focus on power and battles and governments (you won’t discover what it felt like to be an everyday Burmese person in the thirteenth century or anything), but that is what best achieves Thant Myint-U’s aim. I relished every page of this, and it reinforced my desire to visit Burma for myself. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys good nonfiction; it goes without saying those who share my international relations nerd-ery should pick this up! And isn’t that cover lovely?
Suggested Companion Reads
- Everything is Broken by Emma Larkin (An excellent account of Larkin’s travels among Burma after the Nargis cyclone, with her trademark blend of the literary and political.)
- From the Land of Green Ghosts by Pscal Khoo Thwe (A fascinating memoir by a member of Burma’s largest ethnic minority, the Karen.)
- Freedom from Fear by Aung San Suu Kyi (I can’t not include her on my list! This is a collection of all kinds of writing styles, but in all of them Aung San Suu Kyi’s love for her country comes through.)
P.S. Today I’m participating in Simon’s My Life in Books series! I’m thrilled to have been invited, and if you want to see my answers just pop on over. ;)