“A Collective Thumbing of the Nose at” Burma’s Dictatorship

(p. A9) For a young man born in a premodern dictatorship, Nway appeared to have it all. The son of a physician, he grew up in the town of Twantay, Burma, with the comforts typically reserved for the country’s military elite. He dreamed of becoming a doctor and raising a family of his own.
That all changed one night after the abortive elections of 1990, when Nway’s father, a supporter of the democracy movement, was arrested on unnamed charges and sentenced to 20 years in prison. There, he was kept in solitary confinement and endured routine beatings, interrogations and mock suffocations until he died of “complications of the liver” in October 1996.
Nway’s father was gone but not forgotten: His awza, or influence, lives on. Inspired by his father’s legacy, Nway dropped out of medical school and devoted his life to bringing liberal democracy to Burma.
. . .
At one point in the book, Nway is pursued by the “dogs” of Burma’s security forces and happens upon some old acquaintances at a beer den. The friends swallow their fear and summon passersby to help protect him. They sit down, building “a fort around Nway” in “a collective thumbing of the nose at the Special Branch police” until he is able to slip away on a motorbike.
For Ms. Schrank, this anecdote embodies the philosophy that ultimately makes the dissidents’ appeal to the people of Burma successful. In her final chapter she notes that it has now become “cool” to tie across your forehead a strip of cloth with the sign of the NLD and support the party “that only months before had belonged to the underground students and come most often with a one-way ticket to prison.”

For the full review, see:
NICHOLAS DESATNICK. “BOOKSHELF; Freedom Fighters; To understand how Burma’s military junta began coming apart at the seams, you need to meet this band of ‘oddballs and dreamers.'” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 31, 2015): A9.
(Note: ellipsis added, italics in original.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 30, 2015.)

The book under review, is:
Schrank, Delphine. The Rebel of Rangoon: A Tale of Defiance and Deliverance in Burma. New York: Nation Books, 2015.

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