27 July 2011

Everything is Broken

Written by Published in Book Reviews

Having previously written Finding George Orwell in Burma, lived in Asia and learned the Burmese language, American Emma Larkin is well placed to write a reportage of this isolationist regime

Everything is Broken by Emma LarkinHer focus is the authority’s alarming response to the cataclysmic cyclone that struck the delta region in 2008, killing between 150,000 and half a million people (depending on which estimate you believe). Burma’s regime refused international help in the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, and broadly denied the extent of the disaster, resulting in many more thousands of Burmese dying. 

The book’s title is taken from a Bob Dylan song on his album No Mercy, and the ensuing narrative, underlying which is a helpful cultural and political history of the country, reveals just that: the cold, dark heart at the centre of the regime. 

Everything is Broken captures an atmosphere of smoke and mirrors that distorts reality itself, where resistance, symbolised by the testimony of Aung San Suu Kyi, involves sacrifice (and sometimes martyrdom), and where truth is pushed underground and lauded in secret. Because after all, as Larkin summarises, ‘This is a place where natural disasters don’t happen … and where the gaping misery that follows any catastrophe must be covered up and silenced.’

Elsewhere the times might be a-changing, but in Burma, despite an outward show, the present is still caught in obfuscation and propaganda. 

Everything is Broken by Emma Larkin (Granta) £8.99

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