The Cheltenham Literature Festival – 5th to 14th October 2018
Novel set in Burma (“…in Burma anything could be bought with money and nerve.”)
14th September 2015
The Road To Rangoon by Lucy Cruickshanks, novel set in Burma.
Set in a very difficult period of Burma’s history, this novel brings the rawness and uncertainty of the times to life in the later 20th Century. We meet Thuza, a young woman, who has seen tragedy at the heart of her family. The Armed Forces, the Tatmadaw, hold a tight grip over the citizens, and people have to do what they have to do, to make ends meet. Thuza turns, quite successfully, to ruby smuggling and the whole process is eye opening and well researched (the best rubies are hard and cold when touched with the tongue, for example). Michael, the son of the British Ambassador is waiting to go back to England, but soon he is missing; and Than, an ambitious military officer, sees his chance to move swiftly through the ranks.
There are very carefully observed mannerisms amongst the local people, and the oppressive times in which the people of Burma were living are acutely portrayed. It cleverly sets the historical for anyone who is going to visit in the 21st Century who wants to gain a sense of the country of Myanmar today.
“This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know about.” Rudyard Kipling, Letters from the East
Author Lucy Cruickshanks talks to us about travelling in Myanmar….
Myanmar is Southeast Asia’s fastest up-and-coming travel destination, and it’s easy to see why. Sheltered from the outside world for so long, the country’s beauty remains staggering. From the sprawling ancient temples that peep through the morning haze at Bagan, to the dense teakwood forests that swathe the rolling Shan State hillsides, to the crumbling, melancholy charm of colonial Yangon, it offers a rare opportunity to experience an Asia from a bygone era, one yet to be overwhelmed by tourism and Western influences, one of genuine, unspoilt, powerful allure.
The number of visitors to Myanmar annually is still small. Around 300,000 tourists cross the border each year, compared with more than 14 million in neighbouring Thailand. As traffic rises, the government faces a challenge to ensure that increased tourism does not swamp them, learning from other Southeast Asian nations about the damage to the environment that rapid, unregulated development can bring, and ensuring the core attraction of Myanmar remains intact.
For the meantime, however, the chance exists to visit a country on the cusp of change. I found it hugely welcoming, its people full of humour and warmth. It wasn’t the easiest or cheapest place to travel in, though costs are coming down and the tourism infrastructure is gradually evolving. Cash machines, for example, whilst almost non-existent a few years ago, are now increasingly common. Internet connections are painfully slow and power can be intermittent, but there are more and more options for accommodation springing up, and creature comforts sneaking in at the lower end of the market too.
Though the practicalities of travel in Myanmar are improving, the ethical questions about visiting endure. The ‘unspoiltness’ that tempts so many tourists to travel to Myanmar is a direct result of decades of military dictatorship, civil war and economic mismanagement that have suspended this resource-rich country in time. The lack of development has left millions of ordinary people in extreme poverty and the government is notorious for human rights abuses. Some argue that to travel there endorses the regime, propping it further with the money tourism brings. Tourism provides jobs that are desperately needed, however, and allows Burmese people to create an important, much coveted dialogue with the outside world.
If you do decide to go, there are a few simple ways to increase the benefit of your visit for ordinary people. By staying in smaller guesthouses and eating in family restaurants or from street vendors, your money is less likely to fall directly into the hands of the government, who own most of the high-end establishments. Similarly, not always using the same taxi drivers or guides, and buying souvenirs from a variety of shops and market stalls will spread your money amongst the greatest number of families.
As a country only just opening up to the world, travel to Myanmar means greater challenges and frustrations than you’d encounter elsewhere, but the opportunities too are exciting and rewarding. It truly is, as Kipling said, ‘quite unlike any land you know about’.
A BIG THANK YOU TO LUCY!