A Daughter's Memoir of Burma

A Daughter's Memoir of Burma

Foreword by David I. Steinberg
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    A Daughter's Memoir of Burma
    Book Description:

    Wendy Law-Yone was fifteen at the time of Burma's military coup in 1962. The daughter of Ed Law-Yone, daredevil proprietor ofRangoon Nation, Burma's leading postwar English-language daily, she experienced firsthand the perils and promises of a newly independent Burma.

    On the eve of Wendy's studies abroad, Ed Law-Yone was arrested, his newspaper shut down, and Wendy herself was briefly imprisoned. After his release, Ed fled to Thailand with his family, where he formed a government-in-exile and tried, unsuccessfully, to foment a revolution. Emigrating to America with his wife and children, Ed never gave up hope that Burma would adopt a new democratic government. While he died disappointed, he left in his daughter's care an illuminating trove of papers documenting the experiences of an eccentric, ambitious, humorous, and determined patriot, vividly recounting the realities of colonial rule, Japanese occupation, postwar reconstruction, and military dictatorship. This book tells the twin histories of Law-Yone's kin and country, a nation whose vicissitudes continue to intrigue the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53780-3
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. XI-XVIII)
    David I. Steinberg

    Edward Law-Yone was one of a kind. He straddled multiple worlds, crossed cultural lines, moved through governmental and diplomatic circles with a sense of assurance and belonging, and yet was often in opposition to both the left and the right, while seeming on intimate terms with all factions. His name was synonymous withThe Nation, the controversial and irreverent, but highly respected, English-language newspaper he published and edited. Through sheer force of personality, backed by his newspaper’s powerful voice, he swayed ministers, generals, and entire governments.

    I first met Edward Law-Yone in 1958, when I was in Rangoon with the...

  5. Prologue
    (pp. 1-18)

    The bomb went off at two in the morning, kicking me out of a deep sleep. I caught the tail end of the blast and felt the windows flinch. ‘Is it an earthquake?’ I heard myself ask. John was up in a flash, pulling back the curtains, peering through the plate-glass window of our second-storey room – out into the blank stillness of Rangoon after hours. ‘That’s no earthquake,’ he muttered, climbing back into bed. The next minute he was fast asleep.

    It was a bomb, then; it had to be. In my semi-conscious state, I found this reassuring. A bomb...

  6. Part 1: Inside
    • 1 The Lost Nation
      (pp. 21-28)

      Because I was born in 1947, just a year ahead ofThe Nation’s founding, I never knew a time when there wasn’t aNation. Dad’s newspaper was something I took for granted: a fact of life, a birthright. At home it was a staple, like oil or salt. It served as our daily almanac, forecasting the weather and our horoscopes, publishing the schedules and outcomes of the horse races that Dad was so keen on, revealing the numbers of lottery tickets my uncles never won, posting the results of exams my older sister and brothers passed or failed in. It...

    • 2 Born That Way
      (pp. 29-44)

      Viewing my father’s life through his memoirs was a little like viewing an old Chinese painting. The Chinese have no word for ‘perspective’ in the Western sense, the closest equivalent beingtoushi, which means something like ‘to penetrate and look at’. For what is ‘perspective’, really, in a panorama where the viewer’s eye is led along lines that slant in so many directions, so many shifting vantage points? Whether the focus is on valleys and mountain peaks, or on human figures in architectural settings, the artist’s ‘story’ is highlighted in eccentric ways, with a freedom and authority that results in...

    • 3 The Tiger’s Footprints
      (pp. 45-61)

      The two nations of my childhood, my father’s newspaper and independent Burma, came into being in the selfsame year, in 1948. Related to these twin events was the lesser event of my own birth. Not lesser to me, of course, and not strictly speaking related at all. But I was confused into seeing a connection. The confusion was caused by my paternal grandmother, a most impressive old lady despite being the skinniest person I’d ever seen who wasn’t at death’s door. Fixing me with her great insect eyes, Grandmother Daw (Mrs) Saw Shwe predicted that I would follow in my...

    • 4 Theatre of War
      (pp. 62-77)

      So begins the preface to my father’s memoir, with a sentence that is only partly true. More precisely, the first part of that sentence is patently untrue, for my father was anything but ordinary. He was not an ordinary Burman, or an ordinary Sino-Burman, or an ordinary Kachin, the ethnic minority he most closely identified with. Nor did he ever think himself ordinary. But he liked to strike an occasional note of modesty – suspect as it sounded to anyone who knew him even slightly.

      To me it always seemed that what set apart our family stories of flood, fire,...

    • 5 Birth of The Nation
      (pp. 78-93)

      Lieutenant Grangaard must have hit Dad in a soft place with his jibes about redundancy. For underneath his bravado was uncertainty about what he was going to do next. ‘I was by training and temperament a civil servant,’ he wrote – another statement that was only half true. His temperament was anything but that of a civil servant. Still, he recognised that ‘it behoved even civil servants to have their wits about them when the end of world war presaged political upheavals’. He wanted to meet the new political leaders and find out what sort of Burma they had in mind...

    • 6 On the Green Couch
      (pp. 94-106)

      Dad was hardly ever at home in the evenings, but when he did stop by for an early dinner, it usually meant he was going back to work afterwards, not on to some ‘function’.

      Unhinged by the thought of keeping sahib waiting at the dining table, Ali, our cook, would flounder about the kitchen, managing in his agitation to grab neither his head nor his arse, as the saying went. Dripping with sweat, limping from his gammy leg, he would carry out the tray of steaming rice, pork curry, green mango halves with their dipping sauce of his home-madengapi...

    • 7 Steppe by Steppe
      (pp. 107-120)

      While Dad was cutting a swathe as gadfly, stinging and goading his public along, Mum in her domain preached reticence. ‘Never go out of your way to draw attention to yourself,’ she would say to me. Or: ‘Why create a stir unnecessarily?’ And: ‘He’s just like the Pope, your father – always speakingex cathedra.’ For a long time I misheard this phrase asex cathedral, and took it to mean that Dad’s pronouncements came from a sacred place, like the grounds of a cathedral.

      It wasn’t the Pope’s infallibility that I had to worry about: it was my parents’. Mum...

    • 8 Muckracker, Kingmaker
      (pp. 121-139)

      One person who didn’t read Dad’s newspaper – or said he didn’t – was the prime minister of Burma. Nu claimed not to read any newspapers at all, for fear they would influence his better judgement. Best to leave the sordid business of the broadsheet to his staff. But ‘Bo Law’ (‘Comrade Hasty’, his nickname for Dad) was one newspaperman he had grown to like – even if he preferred to take him in small doses.

      Nu was into his second term of office as head of government. He had gone through something of a transformation and increasingly it was religious rather than...

    • 9 No Return
      (pp. 140-161)

      They came for him almost three weeks later. Always a light sleeper, Mum was the first to hear them. She looked out the window. ‘Edward!’ She shook him by the shoulder. ‘Edward, there’s an army car outside.’

      Dad, half asleep, fumbled with the lock on the expanded metal gate enclosing the front porch to let in the young captain standing outside. Then he slumped into a chair, rubbing his eyes and trying to wake up. ‘Uncle,’ said the captain, ‘let’s go. And don’t touch the telephone please.’

      Dad looked at his watch. 3 a.m. He said he would be out...

    • 10 When the Show Opens in Earnest
      (pp. 162-180)

      In Bangkok my freedom was widely celebrated. All over the city – in restaurants, hotel lobbies, department stores, street markets – radio and television commercials announced my liberation. FREE! FREE! FREE! the adverts flashed and screamed. I had done it – I had made it past the point of no return. The world was my oyster now. The sky was the limit. And my persistent nausea was not just a case of delayed nerves: I was pregnant.

      There was a small problem of how we were going to live, for we had no money. Sterling had quit his job with a San Francisco...

  7. Part 2: Outside
    • 11 Man of La Mancha
      (pp. 183-199)

      In the first year of my father’s imprisonment, before we were allowed to write to him or hear from him, my greatest fear was that I would never see him again. My second greatest fear was that in jail – aptly named Insein Prison – he would slowly lose his mind. Even after his letters started coming – the anodyne, upbeat letters exhorting us to be of good cheer and assuring us of his well-being – I wondered how long it would take to turn him into a frothing lunatic behind bars.

      What a relief, then, to find him not just intact butrevitalised...

    • 12 Golden Parasol
      (pp. 200-217)

      With the resistance on course, Dad shuttled back and forth between camps and safe houses. But every now and then he would drop in unannounced at our house on Soi Bahai. At the sound of thesamlor(the three-wheeler taxi) putt-putting at our front gate while he climbed out with his carrier bags full of groceries, the twins and their older brother Gordon would rush out to greet Grandpa and relieve him of his edible treats.

      My father had a soft spot for my stepson Gordon – not only because he reminded him of his namesake and grandfather, the ‘Burma Surgeon’...

    • 13 Alban
      (pp. 218-236)

      ‘Now that he is here, my troubles are over and I sleep better for it,’ Mum wrote of Dad’s homecoming. ‘He keeps himself busy writing, reading and mowing the lawn. So far so good, and I count my blessings . . .’

      Dad was putting up a good front, but his troubles were far from over. Within a week of his return, an avalanche of letters from Bangkok had rained down on Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, where Marlaine was now running the family homestead. The letters – from the second echelon of younger, more idealistic men he had left behind – were full...

    • 14 Nobody’s Nation
      (pp. 237-254)

      In the summer of 1975 my father came up with a startling proposition. I had just moved to Washington DC to take up a fellowship at the Carnegie Endowment and was visiting him in rural Pennsylvania, where he and Mum were living with Marlaine. ‘Tell you what I’m going to do,’ he said out of the blue. ‘I’m going to sell my daughter the Cadillac for a dollar.’

      ‘Me?’ I thought at first he might be referring to one of my sisters. But addressing people to their faces in the third person was not only a Burmese convention. It was...

  8. Part 3: Homing
    • 15 The Old Road
      (pp. 257-277)

      In the spring of 1989, I decided to go back to where it all began – to the ground, that is, of Dad’s resistance movement.

      Butwhy, my mother wanted to know, did I want to go. ‘Terrible things are happening in Burma,’ she said, as if I didn’t know. That was precisely why I wanted to go.

      The year before, a massive uprising that threatened to bring down the military regime had been brutally crushed. What started as a series of student protests in Rangoon – put down each time by riot police using excessive force – had escalated to mass demonstrations...

    • 16 Mum
      (pp. 278-296)

      ‘Is it possible,’ I asked Hubert, ‘that Dad could have been mistaken?’ ‘Dad? Mistaken?’ My brother’s smile was ironic.

      ‘I mean, do you think Dad was a fabulist?’ Hubert snorted. ‘Of course he was a fabulist.’ My brother’s view of the old man was more jaundiced, I knew, than my own. Still, I couldn’t believe that our father would be leading us on such a wild goose chase.

      It was the spring of 2000, a month after my Burma Road trip.

      Hubert and I were in London, footsore and perplexed after another afternoon of fruitless research – this time at the...

  9. A Note on Sources
    (pp. 297-298)
  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 299-300)
  11. Index
    (pp. 301-310)