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The Trouser People: A Story of Burma in the Shadow of the Empire Hardcover – March 5, 2002
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In The Trouser People, Andrew Marshall recounts his ambitious crisscrossing of contemporary Burma, which emerges as isolated, heartbreaking, fitfully resilient, and, to Western eyes, certainly, often exotically unfathomable. Marshall's compass is the life of a now-obscure Victorian adventurer, Sir George Scott. He draws distinct parallels between British imperialism and Burma's crushing, present-day military dictatorship. But The Trouser People is less analysis than witty, candid travelogue, highlighted by excursions into the remote territory of some of the country's many ethnic minorities. Most fascinating among these are the Wa, former headhunters who now control much of Burma's drug trade. Through their territory Marshall tramps in search of a mysterious lake, whose waters, Wa myth has it, were their birthplace.
This muscular, anecdotal narrative, by centering on individuals and the quotidian complexities of Burmese life, washes a country too often capsulized in black and white into bright color. --H. O'Billovitch
From Publishers Weekly
Beginning with an unusual Burmese monk who keeps a cell phone in his robes and negotiates with Thai border police regarding arms smuggled to the insurgent army fighting Burma's military regime, Marshall recounts his adventures in Burma over a five-year period, inspired by the diaries of late-19th-century Scottish adventurer Sir George Scott (The Burman). Scott furthered the interests of the British colonials (aka the trouser people) by mapping and photographing remote areas of Burma. As Marshall, chief Asian correspondent for British Esquire and coauthor of The Cult at the End of the World, follows in Scott's footsteps, he provides an informed history and his own observations of a country where most people "have never known true peace or true freedom." Burma is ruled by a brutal military dictatorship, and its democracy movement is symbolized by the house arrest in Rangoon of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi. Marshall retraces Scott's steps from Rangoon to Mandalay in 1880, when the despotic rule of King Thibaw, a reign that mirrors current political conditions, was coming to an end. All of the author's adventures will hold readers' interest, but his difficult journeys to tribal villages of the Shan Plateau, through drug-trafficking territory where head-hunting only ended in the 1970s, are particularly enthralling. Although Marshall's sardonic humor may not appeal to all, this is a valuable firsthand look at areas and living conditions in a country relatively unknown in the West. Avid readers of travel literature will love it.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Some of this has undoubtedly been included in other reviews, but... The whole structure of the book is woven around the travels through Burma of two people, the author and a 19-th century Victorian goomba, George Scott. Having two parallel story threads roughly a century apart, I felt, did a lot to put things in persective, and at times really set my imagination on fire. Reading one page, I'm(armchair-wise) traveling with the author to a distant, intriguing village high up in some beautifully forested and rice-terraced hills; on another page I get to read about some Shan chief who, killed by the British, was boiled into some kind of goo by Shan rivals and decanted into vials which were sold as potions for bravery; on another I'm wondering if the author is going to be beaten by soldiers and dumped in the fog-ensnared mud while undertaking some foolhardy quest in a northern Wa drug state, trying to find a mythical lake; and on another I get to witness George Scott defuse the mistrust of a xenophobic Wa village, armed with nothing but a sense of humor that apparently transcended culture.
And interwoven with all these wonderful, exotic stories, are many facts, historical and contemporary, on various customs, superstitions, political circumstances, human rights violations, and on every other matter of conceivable relevance. Such as the efflorescence of soccer in Burma in the 19-th century, for example.
In summation, the author has a sharp eye for detail, the ability to make very intelligent writing, a sense of adventure and an abundance of curiosity, and the wit and passion to put it all together into a very satisfying read, and this he has done.
Besides making a daunting, surprising and fearless journey, Marshall writes so nicely, not unlike Sir George, with a great sense of humour. A real treat!
His 2nd edition includes an eyewitness account of the 2007 Saffron Revolution of the monks, and a short note on the changes that began in 2010.
As a journalist, Marshall has covered Burma and SE Asia for 20 years and won a 2014 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. His blog and Twitter feed are interesting: "reporting from Asia on conflict, human rights and climate change" (http://andrewmarshall.com).