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REVIEW: The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi

Book by Peter Popham


 

REVIEW: The lady and the peacock: The life of Aung San Suu KyiAung San Suu Kyi demanded a condition of Michael Aris, the English suitor who sought to marry her, before she would agree to the match: “I only ask one thing, that should my people need me, you would help me to do my duty by them.”

Suu Kyi is the daughter of modern Burma’s greatest hero, Aung San, who led the country toward independence following the Second World War and died months before it was achieved. This history burdened Suu Kyi with great expectations, but for her first 42 years little suggested she might meet them. She had left Burma as a teenager and settled in Oxford with her scholar spouse and two children, but few achievements of her own.

All this changed in 1988, when she returned to Burma to care for her ailing mother, as protests against the ruling military regime shook the country. The movement needed a symbol, a figure to rally around, and in a part of the world with a soft spot for familial dynasties, activists looked to Suu Kyi. And so the Oxford housewife, the “trailing spouse,” in the author’s words, found herself a vessel for the hopes of millions of Burmese.

Whatever quirk of fate and ancestry had brought her to this point, Suu Kyi rose to the almost impossible challenge. She gave up everything she had to champion Burmese democracy, and has done so, with grace and courage, ever since. In the process, she sacrificed her freedom, having spent most of the last 25 years under house arrest; and her family, forbidden by Burma’s government from seeing her, even when Aris was dying.

She could have left Burma at any time during her long periods of detention but didn’t, knowing she would never be allowed back. She chose her country above all else. If this carefully researched and clearly written biography doesn’t satisfactorily explain why, it may be because the question is unanswerable. Suu Kyi is an uncommon woman. This is a revealing account of her life.


 

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