Reading: Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle

burma guy delisleI’m a big fan of Guy Delisle’s graphic novels, so it was only a matter of time before I picked up Burma Chronicles. I really enjoy Delisle’s work because it’s simply his observations, thoughts and insights completely free of prejudice or preconceived notions, which was the case in both North Korea and China.

Like his other books, Burma Chronicles has a loose storyline but it’s primarily made up of single vignettes that span anywhere from one to four pages. Instead of being the one in the family working this time, however, Delisle’s wife is in Burma (Myanmar) working for Doctors Without Borders while he takes care of their son, Louis, and explores a limited part of the country.

While he’s in Burma, the artist teaches a small group of students about graphic arts, but for the most part he’s free to do what he wants, and because he suffers from an elbow injury and can’t work, much of Burma Chronicles consists of little observations that he might not have captured otherwise.

Over the course of more than a year in Burma, Delisle notices several small details that add color to a reader’s understanding of the country. For example, his observations on censorship are insightful and provide an enlightening look into why the country’s culture has evolved the way it has (it reminded me a bit of his thoughts on the topic in North Korea). The fact that Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi lives detained in her home just down the street from the author’s home adds another interesting layer of oppression. Despite the differences in culture between the United States and Burma, some things never change. Louis is a great source of attention for Delisle, and he discovers that going out without his child is akin to being nonexistent to his neighbors.

So much of the author’s books has to do with his work in some form or fashion, so I also found Burma Chronicles to be a particularly fascinating for its look into non-profit culture because of his wife’s job. Though his wife works for Doctors Without Borders, the expatriate community in which the family is a part is largely made up of people working for similar organizations. The red tape these aid workers have to go through is equally mystifying and frustrating, and as an average person, I don’t understand why it is so difficult for these people to assist those who are most in need of their services. So, in addition to appreciating Delisle’s everyday insights, I also appreciated this added dimension to this particular book.

Over the course of three books, I feel like I’ve gotten to know the author well, so it was enjoyable learning that we have a common interest in exploring grocery stores in foreign countries. The heat is a constant source of frustration and angst for him, and I could definitely relate with what it’s like to live somewhere so miserably hot without having reliable (or any air conditioning) to make conditions more comfortable. Delisle is a real, likeable person, and this book truly is a testament to his powers of observation and ability to share those thoughts in a way that are easily translated and digested.

This book comes highly recommended. Find the book on Amazon.

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