There is no shortage of books on the market that delve into the life of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Peter Popham’s ‘The Lady and the Peacock’ and his more recent ‘The Lady and the Generals’, Justin Wintle’s ‘Perfect Hostage’, Bertil Lintner’s ‘Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s Struggle for Democracy’ among them.
Scrimped and salvaged from scraps of letters, memories of older acquaintances and, if the authors were fortunate, a brief encounter with The Lady herself, these books have helped in the idealised moulding of a woman and are important resources in understanding one of the great women of the 20th and 21st centuries. Just as important though, and sadly neglected, is the view of the Burmese themselves.
Moe Linn (Pho Lay), a life-long democracy activist, was hired as Aung San Suu Kyi’s cook after her house arrest in the 90’s and spent the better part of the next 20 years in close company with her. The book then is a collection of 24 articles written by the author and published between 2011 and 2012 in Open News and Myanmar Times, with some original pieces, diary entries and letters thrown in. It offers a chronological snapshot both into the humdrum life of Daw Suu and her attendants whilst under house arrest and the moments of joy and fear after intermittent releases.
He recalls the anger at seeing the household staff burning posters, photographs and books of Daw Suu, apparently at her behest as there was little room in the house on University Avenue to store her collection. He remembers the puppy Taichido, a gift from her son, who followed Daw Suu around the house and gardens growling at any who came near to her.
Interspersed in these recollections are small digressions of thoughts and passages of history that seem to the author important in hindsight; the India/Burma relationship; the 2008 military drafted constitution; the state of education in Myanmar. Though these moments have the potential to derail the narrative, the compiler (the author?) happily keeps them linked to the timeline that threads the essays together.
The final article, published in the Myanmar Times in January 2013, the month the censor board was finally abolished, sweeps back in time to the 1988 revolution to the author’s own experience in detention; an excellent primer on what happened behind the barbed wire walls.
Anybody who wants to see and understand the life of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi beyond the image we have created of her in the West needs to read this book. Given the author’s position, as both an employee and confidant, this was never going to be a critical or impartial story and nor should it be. Rather, it is a poignant recall, of startling clarity, of the people and places that swept into the household of Daw Suu which biographies written by outsiders will struggle to emulate.
MCM Books is a subsidiary of Myanmar Consolidated Media, the entity that owns and prints the English language daily Myanmar Times. Clearly some of their expertise has made its way into this publication as the book is in very good condition. The 166 pages are crisp and clean with a pearl white colouring. The typography is clear and standardised throughout the text. All articles previously published in other journals are credited. The photographs, scans of originals taken many years ago, are about as a good a quality as they could make them. This is the paperback edition, and while the glue is strong, I would be interested in seeing the quality of the binding and boards for the hardback.
The Book Matter:
Title: Up Close: Two Decades of Close Encounters with Aung San Suu Kyi
Author: Moe Linn (aka Pho Lay)
Translator: Khin Aung, Thaung Nyunt, Ko Ko, Wai Linn
Publisher: MCM Books Publishing
Pub Date: 2013
Circulation: 2000 Copies
Cost: 1000 MMK