Burmese Light in The Wall Street Journal


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“For the armchair traveler, Mr. Kemp’s “Burmese Light” may be the most entertaining introduction to the country. Originally from the Netherlands, Mr. Kemp has lived in the region since the 1980s and is known for books from Vietnam and Cambodia. “‘Burmese Light’ is really about this moment in transition,” he explained before the book’s launch last week in Bangkok.

Mr. Kemp concedes a commercial motivation. In late 2011, as embargoes relaxed and Burmese reforms escalated, he decided to focus on this emerging nation. “I wanted to make a record of that moment of transition, before it was gone.”

He was another early visitor to Burma decades ago. Beginning in early 2012, he made several new visits and traveled most of the country shooting anew. Contributing writing is Tom Vater, a Bangkok-based author and Mr. Kemp’s partner in Hong Kong’s Crime Wave Press, which releases Asian-focused detective novels.

Mr. Vater had never visited Burma, and brings a freshness to his commentary. “In small towns everyone gets around on cycle rickshaws pedaled by skinny, cheroot-puffing old timers. For longer distances, the Burmese hop onto pickup trucks called lain ka, a name derived, apparently, from ‘line car.’ The railroads are a world of their own—rickety, challenging, ancient. Hard seats only. The bridges look like action movie set pieces, ready to collapse. In the end,” he writes, “everybody gets there, of course—in Burmese time.””

Ron Gluckman reviews new books on Burma, including Burmese Light in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal. Read the full review here.

Photograph by Aroon Thaewchatturat, taken at the Burmese Light book launch at Asia Books Central World in Bangkok on 22nd August 2013.

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