A startling account of an evil regime and one young man's efforts to defy it.
Twenty-eight-year-old James Mawdsley spent much of the past four years in grim Burmese prisons. The Iron Road is his story, and the story of the regime that jailed him, the way it jails, tortures, and kills hundreds of Burmese each day.
Mawdsley was working in New Zealand when he learned about the struggle of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese Nobel laureate who is under house arrest. Outraged, he went to Burma, staged a one-man protest, and was jailed.
There his own amazing story begins. He is tortured, interrogated, released, jailed again. He turns his incarceration into a contest of wits -- going on a hunger strike, toasting the year 2000 with a cigar and "prison champagne," and requesting "1 packet of freedom, 1 bunch human rights, and 2 bottles of democracy." At the same time, he asks himself: What leads those of us in peaceful democracies to ignore others' suffering, just because it is happening "over there," to "them"?
James Mawdsley is a hero in a generation said to lack heroism. The Iron Road -- named for a torture in which skin is scraped from bone with a piece of iron -- is an urgent call for an end to human rights abuses in Burma and is a keen analysis of the totalitarian mind-set. And it is the story, at once moving and terrifying, of how one person can further the cause of justice through sheer will and determination.
In his first book, Mawdsley painstakingly describes his nearly unimaginable experiences as a political prisoner in Burma, recalling almost matter-of-factly the cruelty, deprivation, sorrow, horror and bureaucratic stupidity he endured, and his calculated opposition to authority. Three times he set himself up for arrest in Burma during the 1990s in support of the democratic movements that fought the repressive military junta. In a thorough but occasionally meandering narrative, the author vividly recounts sacrifice and heroism little known in the West. He tells of the brave and generous Burmese revolutionaries supporters of the National League for Democracy, which overwhelmingly won a 1990 election that was disregarded by the junta who daily faced the threat of encountering the larger, better-armed government forces. He also takes the reader inside his own mind, that of a quiet revolutionary who challenged authority by demanding his rights to food, books and letters and by calling for humane treatment for his fellow prisoners. Mawdsley also recounts his evolution from angry advocate of justice to a Christian armed with God's love (though as a Brit, he doesn't describe himself as "born-again"). His use of British terms may briefly befuddle some American readers. Yet his story of personal commitment to a struggle on the other side of the planet and of the Burmese who give their lives for that struggle buttresses everyone but despots and their minions. Photos and maps.