The Lacquered Curtain of Burma is a story of people caught in the throes of British colonial conquest and the Japanese occupation of the country during the World War II. Written by a Yangon-born Indian, Eugene Lawrence, the 220-page novel brings the historical, social, religious, and political upheaval in the country since 1947 to life. The author builds a tumultuous narrative around an Indian National Army captain, Immamuel Stanley David, who arrived in Burma during World War II and married a girl, Dora, from the Karen tribe.
Lawrence embellishes his characters by putting them in different situations and then revels in describing their responses. In the process, bringing out the dislocation, disjointedness and fragmentation in their lives.
David, Dora and Commander Solomon, a Karen guerrilla resisting the Burmese army, are unknown faces in the narrative of a nation but pushed under the spotlight once the historical events unfold in the novel. The subjects’ longing for their homeland endows the novel with complex emotions and myriad feelings. “Dora was amused to see that the Indians were also capable of racism; her children were teased and bullied at times for being Burmese. Paradoxically, they had been teased for being Indians in Rangoon,” Lawrence writes in chapter Across the Bay (Page 129).
The metaphor of curtain keeps repeating in the book in one form or the other, whether it is the iron veil imposed by military junta on the country or its isolation by the international community.
In one instance, the fall of curtain signifies the end of adolescence and innocence in a character’s life. The writer’s skill comes through when he describes a sea voyage on a cloudy night saying, ‘the soothing calm of moonlight and the twinkling beacons of the stars were curtained from the sky…’
References to historical personalities such as Thee Baw, the last king of Burma, former Prime Ministers General Ne Win, U Nu, U Thant, the third UN Secretary General, and Aung San Suu Kyi appear as signposts in the troubled journey of a nation from a military-governed state to democracy.
The Lacquered Curtain of Burma reminds of another historical novel, The Glass Palace, although the Amitav Ghosh’s magnum opus is spread over a much bigger canvas.
A noticeable drawback in the novel is that it tends to be a chronological commentary of the historical events towards the end. A couple of typographical errors and a few factual errors mar the overall effort of an exquisitely written book.
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