Based on the lives of her mother and grandparents, Miss Burma (Grove, $26), by Charmaine Craig, is nothing short of stunning. Especially for readers unfamiliar with Burma, here is a tale of loss and love in a country too long neglected by the world. This novel begins in 1926 in a place still dominated by the British Empire. We meet Benny, Craig’s grandfather, and follow him as he endures a harsh childhood as a Jewish transplant first in Calcutta, India, and then in Rangoon, Burma. Surviving on his reputation as a pugilist, he eventually becomes an officer of His Majesty’s Customs Services. Through his official duties Benny meets Craig’s grandmother, Khin, a member of the long persecuted ethnic minority group known as the Karen. Their courtship and wedding is passionate and swift. They soon have their first child, Louisa, Craig’s mother, and other children quickly follow. What might have been a wonderful life for a happy family was forever altered by the advent of World War II and then years of civil war. What separates this book from others is its frank look at who and what survives under such perilous conditions. Love and identities are tested both physically and mentally, and the characters have more than a few surprising realizations. This is an epic story that uses the lens of one family to help explain modern Burma.
Miss Burma - Charmaine Craig