Craig masterfully renders the human condition in matters micro and vast. And as Benny and Khin's story opens up to include the desires and fears of their strikingly beautiful, fiery daughter Louisa, she proves to be a singular force, a combined product of her parents' separate strengths that reveals the power in individual perseverance, even in the face of torture and slaughter. Like many of the best books, Miss Burma feels rooted in its time and place, while also laying bare timeless questions of loyalty, infidelity, patriotism, and identity—not to mention the globally perpetuated unfair treatment of women. It also raises one particularly resonant concern: What does it take to shake us out of complacency?
...the dead-weight melody that resonates across these pages is that of Karen history — one not widely told or realized, either within Burma or beyond its borders ... Miss Burma also serves as a much-needed recalibration of history, one that redresses the narrative imbalance by placing other ethnic, non-Burmese points of view at the center of its story ... In reimagining the extraordinary lives of her mother and grandparents, Craig produces some passages of exquisitely precise description ... If at times the doling out of history lessons feels a tad heavy-handed, with characters occasionally succumbing to soliloquy or unlikely moments of narrative self-awareness, it is ultimately forgivable: The context in which Miss Burma is set is not part of a common well of knowledge. By resurrecting voices that are seldom heard on a wider stage, Craig’s novel rescues Benny from his own foretelling of oblivion and brings one of Burma’s many lost histories to vivid life.
Miss Burma is an ambitious novel, and perhaps for that reason, it falters at points. It’s generally hard to marry a novel to a strong political agenda and have it come out unscathed ... In fairness, Craig is drawing from her family’s history. On the other hand, her choice to fictionalize this history gives her license to do a little editing, from which the book might have benefitted. Yet, overall, Miss Burma is powerful in showing the relentless effect of the political on the personal while covering an important swath of history – and all the while telling an awfully good story.
Whether Craig is describing the family’s escape through the jungle during WWII or student protests in 1962, she transports us to the thick of the conflicts. Though this story is specifically Burmese, the references to the influence of British, American, and communist players emphasizes the intertwined histories of nations, of alliances both widely known and forgotten. Based on real lives, Craig’s historical novel challenges our assumptions about everything from beauty queens to rebels and reminds us that the course of a nation’s history is often determined by the fallibility of individuals.
Based on her own family’s history, Craig’s novel is rich and layered, a complex weaving of national and personal trauma ... Craig has written a captivating second novel that skillfully moves from moments of quiet intimacy and introspection to passages portraying the swift evolution of political events as multiple groups and nations vie for control of Burma’s future. Mesmerizing and haunting.
With Miss Burma, Charmaine Craig accomplishes something many historical novelists do not: the successful depiction of great sweeps of momentous events along with intimate scenes that linger over the most minor, evocative details ... With her war-and-peace, past-and-future concerns, Craig writes about ethnicity with an encompassing eye ... This tension permeates the book as characters must grapple with identities set in motion long before they ever take their own place as actors. War, hunger, jail, coups, bubonic plague: Adversity stalks Craig's characters. She never shrinks from depicting their suffering, but they remain wholly human throughout each trial ... About that violence: There are some unsparing passages in the novel, and knowing that they’re based on fact makes reading them that much more harrowing ... It's these children, in many ways, who most give Miss Burma its urgency and pace ...this novel expertly chronicles a people’s resolve and the metamorphosis of a complicated land.
These three stories are tied together by the tension between identity and tribalism, by ethnicity’s promise of — and oft-deferred deliverance of — social and political salvation. These three strands of Burmese history are also linked by one behind-the-scenes character: the Western colonizer … The past is not so much a backdrop for Craig’s story as its underlying architecture. History is the bones to which the flesh of human experience clings — or is it vice versa? … Craig expects a good deal of her audience in terms of their appetite for Burmese history, and I hope that many will rise to the occasion, because the rewards are rich.
Spanning generations and multiple dictators, Craig’s epic novel provides a rich, complex account of Burma and its place within the larger geopolitical theater. The first half of the book is an undeniable success; the language and the images unfold with grace, horror, and intimacy. The second half, however, becomes weighted down by the history of various corrupt generals and the parties they represent, and it loses the spark and the momentum