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The River of Lost Footsteps by Thant Myint-U (thoughts)

March 12, 2012

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

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. ;)

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 12, 2012 6:12 am

    I have always been fascinated by Burma and am glad to know about this book by U Thant’s grandson. Excellent review.

  2. March 12, 2012 10:13 am

    That cover is lovely! Nice to hear of an ‘accessible’ historical fiction book as far too many, in my experience, rely on prior knowledge.


  3. March 12, 2012 11:49 am

    You have no idea how relieved I was to read this post, Eva! I know, that sounds silly–but here’s the story: I bought this book quite a while back, but haven’t read it yet. When I saw you got it out from the library, I felt both excited and fearful to hear what you had to say about it. The fear came from the fact that I knew that if you didn’t like it, I would likely end up leaving it languishing on my bookshelves forever. Yes, my dear, you have that kind of power over my non-fiction reading. :)

  4. March 12, 2012 2:51 pm

    Thanks for the nonfiction recommendations. I read some fiction book about Burma ( some Anerican’s debut novel- I don’t remember much more), & I’ve always wanted more background.

  5. Ruthiella permalink
    March 13, 2012 5:05 pm

    At first glance, when I saw the Adichie title on My Life In Books, I knew it was you!

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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