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Burma Chronicles

by Guy Delisle

Readers familiar with Guy Delisle’s previous travel memoirs, Shenzhen and Pyongyang, may get a jolt from the cover image of his latest. In it, Delisle’s high-foreheaded and low-shouldered avatar is slouching past a heavily fortified mansion (which, it turns out, belongs to none other than Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s most famous political prisoner). The surprising thing is that Delisle, a consummate loner in his previous books, is pushing a baby stroller.
    Delisle may make an unlikely house dad, but in Burma Chronicles, he has followed his wife – a humanitarian aid worker – to Rangoon, where he becomes his son Louis’s primary caregiver and affably bows out of the grown-up world. “I don’t have much to say,” he says, when confronted by the now strange spectacle of “adult conversation.”
    The book is laid out in short, self-contained vignettes relating straightforward episodes drawn from everyday life (visiting a Buddhist temple, scheming for an invitation to the posh Australian Club, celebrating Canada Day with other expats). Politics and humanitarian concerns aren’t at the heart of this book – they’re more the domain of Delisle’s wife, a project manager for Médecins Sans Frontières. But inevitably, as under any dictatorship, authoritarianism is the constant drumbeat that sets the pace of daily life.
    At times, the inscrutable regime’s actions seem comparatively benign, such as the decision to move the capital inland from Rangoon to “a purpose-built city in the middle of nowhere.” Elsewhere, when one of Delisle’s animation students fails to show up for class – whether due to actual violence or fear is unclear – the iron grip of the dictatorship is keenly felt. The book is also a firsthand account of how the regime began interfering with foreign aid organizations, tragically squeezing out NGOs only a short time before the tsunami of 2004.
    By now, Delisle has established himself as one of the top practitioners of graphic memoir. Burma Chronicles is his most rewarding and well-rounded contribution to the genre. The book is crowded with life.