The Rebel of Rangoon
A Tale of Defiance and Deliverance in Burma
One of Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2015
An epic, multigenerational story of courage and sacrifice set in a tropical dictatorship, The Rebel of Rangoon captures a gripping moment of possibility in Burma (Myanmar)
Once the shining promise of Southeast Asia, Burma in May 2009 ranks among the world's most repressive and impoverished nations. Its ruling military junta seems to be at the height of its powers. But despite decades of constant brutality-and with their leader, the Nobel Peace Prize-laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, languishing under house arrest-a shadowy fellowship of oddballs and misfits, young dreamers and wizened elders, bonded by the urge to say no to the system, refuses to relent. In the byways of Rangoon and through the pathways of Internet cafes, Nway, a maverick daredevil; Nigel, his ally and sometime rival; and Grandpa, the movement's senior strategist who has just emerged from nineteen years in prison, prepare to fight a battle fifty years in the making.
When Burma was still sealed to foreign journalists, Delphine Schrank spent four years underground reporting among dissidents as they struggled to free their country. From prison cells and safe houses, The Rebel of Rangoon follows the inner life of Nway and his comrades to describe that journey, revealing in the process how a movement of dissidents came into being, how it almost died, and how it pushed its government to crack apart and begin an irreversible process of political reform. The result is a profoundly human exploration of daring and defiance and the power and meaning of freedom.
This deeply researched book peels back a corner of the hidden world of Burmese dissidents who work for the cause championed by Aung San Suu Kyi, the leading figure in Burma's decades-long struggle for democracy. Schrank, the Washington Post's former Burma correspondent, delves deeply into the world of an activist she calls Nway, who ascends the ranks of Burma's dissident party, the National League for Democracy, as a young man. Her portrayal of his dissident journey is meant to reflect the byzantine methods and multiple layers of identity required to protest a totalitarian regime, whose methods are chilling and terrifying. Nway's story includes clandestine trips to the Thai border for training, a long stretch in Rangoon's dissident underground, and the first stirrings of political progress when the NLD wins some parliamentary seats in the 2012 by-elections. The result, however, is a jumbled narrative, with an unclear timeline, dozens of hard-to-remember aliases, and accounts of internal party disputes the author herself admits are "impossible to explain." The author's longstanding closeness to her subject and her sources muddies her account, but her admiration for the people involved in the worthy struggle remains clear throughout.