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Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011

BEST BOOKS OF 2011

Close-up on a people's disaster


"Everything Is Broken: Life Inside Burma" is the second book by Emma Larkin, a Burmese-speaking American journalist who gathers her touching stories traveling incognito in Burma (aka Myanmar).

News photo

Like her first book, this one has appeared in a popular edition, with a sub-title that is more explicit: "The True Story of Cyclone Nargis and its Aftermath in Burma".

Her clear prose gives an affecting portrait of a people suffering not only disaster, but political repression of a kind that prevents outside assistance reaching those in desperate need.

There are recent signs that this benighted government's attitude has finally begun to change, offering some grounds for hope.

In "To a Mountain in Tibet," the travel writer Colin Thubron arrives in Nepal by plane to start a journey into Tibet on foot. His goal is Mount Kailas, a remote peak sacred to Buddhists, Hindus and others, as "the source of the universe, created from cosmic waters and the mind of Brahma".

Great rivers, like the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra, have their origin in this unwelcoming landscape, which is evoked in concise and lucid prose.

Pilgrims circle the mountain, which has never been climbed, and the author eventually joins them. "I am doing this on account of the dead," he tells us early on.

In "My Loved Japan," a tiny book of scarcely 40 pages, the Romanian poet Clelia Ifrim offers a very fine imaginative response to the tragedy that overtook northeast Japan earlier this year.

As far as I know the writer has never visited Japan, though she has long connections with it through haiku, and haiku poets.

"A river of tears — to whom belongs this silence after the earthquake?"; "Not a voice or sound but this moon path on the waves — fishermen's village" ; "Hobby horse sinking in the depth of the ocean to make its farewell."


BEST BOOKS OF 2011



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