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Miss Burma
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There she is, Louisa at fifteen, stepping onto a makeshift stage at the center of Rangoon's Aung San Stadium in 1956. Give yourself to them , she thinks. And immediately one hand goes to her hip, her head tilts upward, her awareness descends to her exposed thighs, to her too muscular calves, now in plain view of the forty thousand spectators seated in the darkening stands. Give them what they need , her mother told her. And Louisa understands that her mother meant more than a view of her gold highheeled sandals (on loan from a friend and pinching her toes), more than the curves accentuated by her white one-piece (copied from a photo of Elizabeth Taylor). Her mother meant something like a vision of hope. Yet what is Louisa's appearance on this garish stage, during the final round of the Miss Burma contest, but a picture of something dangerous. She is approximately naked, her gleaming suit approximately concealing what should be private. She is approximately innocent, pushing a hip to one side, close to plummeting into indignity. A tide of applause draws her farther into the light. She pivots, presenting the judges and the spectators beyond them with a view of her behind (ample thanks to her Jewish father, who sits with her mother somewhere in the stands nearby). Before her now are the other finalists, nine of them, grouped in the shadows upstage. Their smiles are fixed, their eyes gleaming with outrage. "The special contender," the government paper recently called her. How strange to be dubbed "the image of unity and integration" when she has wanted only to go unremarked--she, the mixed-breed, who is embarrassed by mentions of beauty and race. "We never win the games we mean to," her father once told her. Excerpted from Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
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  New York Times Review

THE DEATH AND LIFE OF THE GREAT LAKES, by Dan Egan. (Norton, $27.95.)Although climate change, population growth and invasive species are destabilizing the Great Lakes' wobbly ecosystem, Egan splices together history, science, reporting and personal experience into a taut and cautiously hopeful narrative. THE GIFT: (Or, Techniques of the Body), by Barbara Browning. (Coffee House/Emily Books, paper, $15.95.) This smart, funny, heartbreaking and often sexy novel concerns an artist and professor of performance studies (like the author) engaged in a continuing art project that bears an uncertain resemblance to her life. MISS BURMA, by Charmaine Craig. (Grove, $26.) A character based on Craig's Jewish grandfather marries a woman who belongs to a non-Burmese ethnic minority, the Karen, in a novel that reimagines their extraordinary lives. Their mixed-race daughter becomes the "Miss Burma" of the title. Themes of identity, longing and trust are addressed over nearly 40 years of Burmese history. THE ALLURE OF BATTLE: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost, by Cathal J. Nolan. (Oxford University, $34.95.) A historian argues that focusing on battles is the wrong way to understand wars, because attrition is what almost always wins. This thoughtprovoking book suggests a new approach to military history. ERNEST HEMINGWAY: A Biography, by Mary V. Dearborn. (Knopf, $35.) A perceptive and tough-minded biographer, Dearborn is immune to the Hemingway legend, and concentrates instead on what formed him as a man and a writer. She skillfully covers an enormous range of rich material. MUSIC OF THE GHOSTS, by Vaddey Ratner. (Touchstone, $26.) This tenaciously melodic novel explores art and war as an orphaned Cambodian refugee travels from her new home in Minneapolis to the Buddhist temple where her father was raised by monks, hoping against hope that he is still alive. The author discerns the poetic even in brutal landscapes and histories. WHERE THE LINE IS DRAWN: A Tale of Crossings, Friendships and Fifty Years of Occupation in Israel- Palestine, by Raja Shehadeh. (New Press, $25.95.) In deeply honest and intense essays, Shehadeh, a civil rights lawyer who now lives in Ramallah, describes his psychological and physical crossings into Israel. THE WITCHFINDER'S SISTER, by Beth Underdown. (Ballantine, $28.) An English witchhunter caused more than a hundred women to be hanged in the 1640s. In this ominous, claustrophobic novel, Underdown imagines his pregnant, widowed sister, who sees the malignant forces at work but is powerless to resist. FEN: Stories, by Daisy Johnson. (Graywolf, paper, $16.) The stories in Johnson's debut collection explore the shape-shifting world of the Fens, flat, once flooded lands in the east of England. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web:

  Publishers Weekly Review

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. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A beautiful and poignant story of one family during the most violent and turbulent years of world history, Miss Burma is a powerful novel of love and war, colonialism and ethnicity, and the ties of blood.<br> <br> 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 leadthem to change the country's history. After the war, the British authorities make a deal with the Burman nationalists, led by Aung San, whose party gains control of the country. When Aung San is assassinated, his successor ignores the pleas for self-government of the Karen people and other ethnic groups, and in doing so sets off what will become the longest-running civil war in recorded history. 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.<br> <br> 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.
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