I have just not been very diligent lately, and the result is that I have five or six posts that need writing. Anyway, I've been looking for a book about Burma (aka Myanmar) for a while, and this graphic novel seemed just the ticket. It turned out to be a harrowing read.
A note about the Burma/Myanmar thing. I don't know too much about it. Myanmar is the official name now. But, when I got to know some international students from there last year, they were all quite firm that they are Burmese. I gather that using Myanmar sort of implies that one accepts the military dictatorship as legitimate. So I'm going to stick with Burma because of the students.
Thazama, a young boy of the Zomi, grows up in his beloved village. Raised by his grandfather, he runs around with his best friend Moonpi and has a crush on his classmate Kim. When the soldiers arrive and demand that villagers go with them to work for a few days, Thazama's innocence is shattered. The villagers who do return have been starved and beaten, and the others suffered worse fates. Thazama and Moonpi become aware that their land is run by a vicious military dictatorship that foments inter-ethnic war to stay in power. When they are old enough, they go to the city to earn money to send home (partly to free Kim, who has been captured) and eventually, to study at the university. They join the student movement for democracy...and when they're arrested, their lives become an unending round of suffering.
Thazama is tortured in prison, and when he eventually escapes, he's a fugitive in his own land. Trying to get to another country, he's exploited, beaten, and sold into slavery. He's always trying to get somewhere. In Malaysia, he joins a group of Burmese applying for asylum and finds Kim, who is pregnant as a result of rape. They're all imprisoned and beaten, again, but they manage to get Kim a place in the US, where she will wait for Thazama -- except he winds up on a boat to Australia, where he's going to spend years waiting for asylum.
The whole story amounts to a crash course in Burma's recent history, and is the result of hundreds, if not thousands, of Ansel's interviews with Burmese refugees. Thazama and his companions' experiences are all taken from real events that happened to some of those Burmese people. The amount of violence, oppression, and horror visited upon the Burmese people is incredible, and yet they're still stubbornly demanding democracy. It's amazing. (A moderate government was elected in 2020 and there was promptly a coup, so a military junta is running Burma again. There have been ongoing protests for democracy, and accompanying devastating violence, for about 18 months now.)
This is in no way a fun graphic novel experience. But I sure learned a lot. If you want to know something about Burma, this is a reasonable choice.