“Craig wields powerful and vivid prose to illuminate a country and a family trapped not only by war and revolution, but also by desire and loss.” —Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize–winning author
Miss Burma tells the story of modern-day Burma through the eyes of Benny and Khin, husband and wife, and their daughter Louisa. After attending school in Calcutta, Benny settles in Rangoon, then part of the British Empire, and falls in love with Khin, a woman who is part of a long-persecuted ethnic minority group, the Karen. World War II comes to Southeast Asia, and Benny and Khin must go into hiding in the eastern part of the country during the Japanese occupation, beginning a journey that will lead them to change the country’s history.
Years later, Benny and Khin’s eldest child, Louisa, has a danger-filled, tempestuous childhood and reaches prominence as Burma’s first beauty queen soon before the country falls to dictatorship. As Louisa navigates her newfound fame, she is forced to reckon with her family’s past, the West’s ongoing covert dealings in her country, and her own loyalty to the cause of the Karen people.
Based on the story of the author’s mother and grandparents, Miss Burma is a captivating portrait of how modern Burma came to be and of the ordinary people swept up in the struggle for self-determination and freedom.
“At once beautiful and heartbreaking . . . An incredible family saga.” —Refinery29
“Miss Burma charts both a political history and a deeply personal one—and of those incendiary moments when private and public motivations overlap.” —Los Angeles Times
It's 1941 when Khin, a young, pregnant Karen (one of many ethnic groups in Burma), looks up at the sky to see "at least fifty planes flying in formation toward her toward them all... like nothing she had ever seen, and yet precisely like what she had been preparing to witness all her life." The Japanese have invaded, the British hold is slipping fast, and the fragmented worlds from which Khin and her Jewish husband, Benny, have come will continue to fracture for decades. This is the moment at which the war stops being a source of indecision about where to go and becomes instead what forces Khin, Benny, and their daughter Louisa onto an "airless train" without a clear destination. The book itself begins much earlier, as Benny, the son of a rabbi in Rangoon's Jewish quarter, was growing up in the 1920s before seeing Khin and falling instantly in love with her, despite initially sharing almost no common language. Spanning generations and multiple dictators, Craig's epic novel provides a rich, complex account of Burma and its place within the larger geopolitical theater. The first half of the book is an undeniable success; the language and the images unfold with grace, horror, and intimacy. The second half, however, becomes weighted down by the history of various corrupt generals and the parties they represent, and it loses the spark and the momentum.