The Lady and The Generals by Peter Popham – Review

the lady and the generals book review

By Joe Forshaw

On my one and only visit to Burma in 2011 I found it to be one of the saddest countries I had ever visited. Whilst its neighbours Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam were – and are still – developing at a furious pace, Burma languishes in a time warp.

Lady and the generals review coverEver since her father, Burma’s independence hero Aung San was assassinated in 1947 when Aung San Suu Kyi was two-years-old, Burma has been in the grip of the military and a group of paranoid generals whose sole aim is to retain power at any costs. The country is sensationally beautiful, from ‘Rangoon to Mandalay where the flying fishes play’. The people, even though they are severely oppressed, remain mostly cheerful, charming, friendly and as happy as they can be under the circumstances.

“A beacon of hope”

Aung San Suu Kyi deserves a better biography that Peter Popham offers. Indeed, I feel that the book says more about the author than it does about its subject. He seems to be suffering from a tall poppy complex: the unquenchable urge to cut down anyone who is a high achiever.

His criticism, in parts, descends into nit picking. He taunts Suu Kyi for saying that she would never sleep with anyone else but her husband, yet derides her rejection of the idea that she has sacrificed everything. Aung San Suu Kyi said in a speech at the University of Tokyo in 2013 that it is “not a sacrifice to walk a chosen path”.

the lady and the generals Peter Popham

Author Peter Popham

He continues his character assassination relentlessly. In an article that appeared in a UK daily newspaper, he says that she has become the army’s ‘useful idiot’ and states that she has a ravenous egotism made worse by years of isolation.

I suggest that Aung San Suu Kyi has been the brightest light to shine within the Burmese political spectrum for decades; a beacon of hope. She has endured years of house arrest, separation from her family in the UK and the loss of her husband. She has remained, through her trials and tribulations, dignified, serene, composed and determined.

“Not without merit”

In addition, the book also contains many ‘page fillers’. For instance, there is a full chapter dedicated to the search for WW2 spitfires supposedly buried in Burma after WW2, that has no connection to Suu Kyi whatsoever.

But the book is not without merit. It does provide a record of Burma’s political evolution since the end of the British occupation of the country. But anybody expecting an unbiased and rational review of Aung San Suu Kyi’s input is likely to be disappointed.

‘The Lady and the Generals’ by Peter Popham (Rider Books, £9.99) ISBN: 9781846043734


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