Myint-U, Thant 1966–

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Myint-U, Thant 1966–

PERSONAL:

Born January 31, 1966, in New York, NY. Education: Harvard University, undergraduate degree, 1988; Trinity College, Cambridge, Ph.D., 1996; attended the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

ADDRESSES:

E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Historian. United Nations Relief Fund, New York, NY, former policy advisor; freelance writer.

WRITINGS:

Knowledge and Multilateral Interventions: The UN's Experiences in Cambodia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Royal Institute of International Affairs (London, England), 2000.

The Making of Modern Burma, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2001.

The River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times, Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, London Review of Books, New Statesman, Far Eastern Economic Review, Time, and the Times Literary Supplement.

SIDELIGHTS:

A writer and historian, Thant Myint-U was born January 31, 1966, in New York City to parents of Burmese descent. He grew up in Riverdale, just outside of Manhattan, living in the home of his maternal grandfather, U-Thant, who served as the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Despite living in the United States, the family maintained strong ties to their heritage, and within the confines of the house spoke their native language, ate, dressed, and behaved overall as if they were still living in Burma. As a result, when Myint-U first attended school at the age of five, he spoke no English at all and was forced to learn it from the beginning in order to keep up with his lessons. Myint-U's first real experience with Burma came in 1974, when the family traveled back to their homeland in order to bury U-Thant, who had succumbed to lung cancer. Though he was familiar with the language and culture, the political situation was far different from what he was used to back in New York, and it was this aspect of his visit that had a profound effect on him.

In an interview on Greg Lowe.com, Myint-U remarked: "My introduction to Burma as a country was Burma in crisis." Because U-Thant had been a respected figure in Burma, having served as that country's UN ambassador two times, in addition to serving as Secretary-General for two terms, the current political leader, General Ne Win, feared his power even after his death and refused to allow an official state funeral to be held. The people revolted and filled the streets to pay their respects; ultimately the army stepped in and seized the coffin. Myint-U's memories of that day represent his first glimpse into the political situation of his homeland, and how that could affect him and his family on a personal level. Later, as an adult, he would return to the border between Thailand and Burma in an effort to help students fleeing from the atrocities taking place in Burma. He spent time living in Bangkok, where he assisted in fund-raising efforts to accumulate food and medicine to donate to refugees. He also took a position working for the United Nations Relief Fund in New York, where he served as a policy advisor. But Myint-U's primary goal remains to get the message out, and to share information so that people will become aware of the crises in various parts of the world. In that role, he has written for various periodicals, including the New York Times, Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, London Review of Books, New Statesman, Far Eastern Economic Review, Time, and the Times Literary Supplement. He is also the author of a number of books about Burma and other war-torn nations.

The Making of Modern Burma takes a look at the history of the nation from a new perspective that includes much of the information that has been discovered regarding the country's past in recent decades. Myint-U looks at the politics and the culture of the country, as well as its role in the development of various social and state structures in the Konbaung dynasty of the late-eighteenth century. He discusses the more centralized qualities of the country during its unified history prior to the appearance of the British, who annexed the nation and divided it into Upper and Lower Burma. He looks at the effects of British imperialism, as well as the division on both the politics and the culture of the region. Upper Burma, in particular, was shaped largely by the installation of a British administration to oversee the government there. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies critic Jorg Schendel found a number of factual errors or unsubstantiated statements to be jarring, but he concluded that "its greatest strength lies in connecting hitherto separated research agendas on precolonial and colonial Burma. Thant Myint-U's thoughtful account raises fruitful questions and will stimulate the debate on modern Burmese history." Pacific Affairs contributor Joseph Silverstein observed that "the strongest chapters were those which dealt with what Burma was like following each of the wars with Britain, especially his discussion of the impact of being cut off from the delta lands and other parts of lower Burma."

In The River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma, Myint-U offers readers a history of Burma, including an inside look at the political strife and the military takeover that effectively closed the nation off to the outside world. In 1962, General Ne Win set out to isolate the country, maintaining a military dictatorship that cracked down on any outside influence. In 1974, as a result of Ne Win's refusal to allow a state funeral for U-Thant, the students rebelled against the military, and that skirmish, though quickly ended through brute force, proved to be an early indication of the way that the nation was beginning to descend into civil unrest. In 1988, there was another uprising, one that was far more brutal and lengthy, but that also ended through military force, though only after a great deal of bloodshed. Myint-U includes this information in his book, illustrating just how far the nation has fallen. He describes the lack of outside assistance during this time, when the United States sided with the military government, and only China spoke against what was happening within the borders of Burma. Pico Iyer, in a review of the book for Time International, commented that "Thant is not by profession a writer and sometimes his pages are so clotted with detail that they read like a dusted-off doctoral thesis. But as a storehouse of facts about a history too little known, his book is fascinating." Iyer went on to conclude that "he gives us both the savory details and the cruelties of colonialism, as well as a rare feel for palace intrigue." Gilbert Taylor, writing for Booklist, concluded that "this readable, reflective history will support revived interest in Burma."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Australian Journal of Political Science, November 1, 2002, David Scott Mathieson, review of The Making of Modern Burma, p. 587.

Booklist, December 15, 2006, Gilbert Taylor, review of The River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma, p. 15.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, July 1, 2007, S. Maxim, review of The River of Lost Footsteps, p. 1965.

Entertainment Weekly, December 8, 2006, Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, review of The River of Lost Footsteps, p. 101.

Far Eastern Economic Review, April 1, 2007, Bertil Lintner, review of The River of Lost Footsteps, p. 66.

Geographical, May 1, 2007, Mick Herron, review of The River of Lost Footsteps, p. 92.

Journal of Asian History, March 22, 2003, Michael W. Charney, review of The Making of Modern Burma, p. 106.

Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, June 1, 2002, Jorg Schendel, review of The Making of Modern Burma, p. 370.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2006, review of The River of Lost Footsteps, p. 889.

Pacific Affairs, December 22, 2002, Josef Silverstein, review of The Making of Modern Burma, p. 634; September 22, 2007, Robert S. Anderson, review of The River of Lost Footsteps, p. 550.

Publishers Weekly, September 25, 2006, review of The River of Lost Footsteps, p. 54.

Spectator, March 10, 2007, "Brutal, Bankrupt Burma."

Time International, January 22, 2007, Pico Iyer, "Alienated Nation," p. 6.

Times Literary Supplement, April 13, 2007, "Meteoric Fall," p. 30.

ONLINE

Catskill Review of Books,http://www.catskillreviewofbooks.com/ (February 3, 2008), review of The River of Lost Footsteps.

Generation 96 Blog,http://generation96.blogspot.com/ (October 31, 2007), "Free Burma."

Greg Lowe.com,http://thegreglowe.com/ (March 11, 2008), "Thant Myint-U Interview."

London Review of Books Online,http://www.lrb.co.uk/ (April 23, 2008), author profile.

New Mandela Web site,http://rspas.anu.edu.au/ (December 14, 2006), Nicholas Farrelly, "New Book by Thant Myint-U."

New York Times Online,http://www.nytimes.com/ (December 13, 2006), William Grimes, review of The River of Lost Footsteps.

PEN American Center Web site,http://www.pen.org/ (April 23, 2008), author profile.

Spock Web site,http://www.spock.com/ (April 23, 2008), author profile.