Burmese Lessons
Karen Connelly
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Buy *Burmese Lessons: A True Love Story* by Karen Connelly online

Burmese Lessons: A True Love Story
Karen Connelly
Nan A. Talese
400 pages
May 2010
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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“I make a vow. The first half of it is the lazy vow of many rich people: I will accept the bounty, the silk and the fruit, the beautiful mouth of the beloved…I will live with gratitude…The second part of the vow is more difficult: I will live also in conscious mourning.”
Karen Connelly developed a love, some might call it an addiction, for Asian culture at an early age, when she lived in Thailand as an exchange student. A writer with genuine empathy for the exotic and the pitiable, the brave and the terrifying, she returned to Burma (aka Myanmar) in her late 20s to study the effects of a despotic regime on a beautiful culture. Inevitably, while interviewing dissidents, she got caught up in their struggle.
“I learn one thing, essentially, from the human-rights reports I’ve been reading. Something is broken in the human race.”
It is in Burma that she meets Maung, a man who is highly placed in the revolutionary insurgency, who for his cause daily risks his life, who in essence has no life, no home, only an ethic and a banner. She falls in love. He loves her, too, but their loves are trapped somewhere in that realm so frustratingly described in that old adage, East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. Her meetings and partings with Maung only intensify the distance between them. Maung is often absent, often for long periods of time; there are rumors about another woman whose family have been supporting the revolution. Nothing is certain or known for long. Like Maung, Connelly learns to sleep anywhere, to eat anything, to see extremes of suffering firsthand and internalize it without being poisoned:
“Maung leaves in the morning like any working husband…tragedy is a climate; I have acclimatized.”
It must be difficult to write so honestly about oneself, including the sex and the jealousies and the management of bodily functions in alien settings. The book is written in the present tense, which contributes to the immediacy of fear, anger and love. But above all is the incomprehension that plagues all cross-cultural encounters, stains them indelibly. When Connelly has to leave, cannot fit herself into the combination of romance and risk that seems to come so naturally to her lover, cannot see a reasonable future for the two of them, we know that she is hurt to the point of numbness but has made the right, the only decision. Kudos to Connelly for opening her Burmese life to scrutiny. If we are lucky, we are capable of learning her lessons, and feeling her woundedness.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2010

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