On May 2, 2008, an enormous tropical cyclone made landfall in Burma, wreaking untold havoc and leaving an official toll of 138,300 dead and missing. In the days that followed, the sheer scale of the disaster became apparent as information began to seep out from the hard-hit delta area. But the Burmese regime, in an unfathomable decision of near-genocidal proportions, provided little relief to its suffering population and blocked international aid from entering the country. Hundreds of thousands of Burmese citizens lacked food, drinking water, and basic shelter, but the xenophobic generals who rule the country refused emergency help. Emma Larkin, who has been traveling to and secretly reporting on Burma for years, managed to arrange for a tourist visa in those frenzied days and arrived hoping to help. It was impossible for anyone to gauge just how much devastation the cyclone had left in its wake; by all accounts, including the regime's, it was a catastrophe of epic proportions. In Everything Is Broken, Emma Larkin chronicles the chaotic days and months that followed the storm, revealing the secretive politics of Burma's military dictatorship and the bizarre combination of vicious military force, religion, and mysticism that defined its unthinkable response to this horrific event.
As most people know, I'm not a big non fiction fan. I love memoirs but because I have to do so much non fiction reading as a history major, I tend not to read non fiction for pleasure reading. However when I heard about this book, due to personal connections to the plot, I had to break my rule and read this book. To a lot of people who read this book, I can see a lot of people thinking "Wow this is horrible. I can't believe how people can stand living with a government that is so corrupt." Well to me, this book is so much more than an eye opener. My father and his family are from Burma. This book is about my people. I felt such a kinship while reading this book. I hurt reading about how there was so much suffering going on in the country. This could have been me and my family had my father and his family not decided to immigrate to the United States.
Emma Larkin is the pseudonym of an American journalist who has been visiting Burma over the years. There is a reason why she uses a pseudonym. There is a lot of stuff in the book that the government would not want you to know about them. It floored me at how they treat the citizen of the country and yet live in opulence. The news is censored as the country is pretty much cut off from the rest of the world. What's even more interesting is that the top generals might not even be fully aware of what's really going on as there appears to be a lot of middle men that filter out information.
Even if I had absolutely nothing to do with Burma, I still found the book fascinating. The focus is mainly on the aftermaths of the typhoon but a great chunk of the book deals with the history of the country. Particularly of interest is the information about Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Burma's pro-democracy leader who has been kept in house arrest for 14 out of the last 20 years. There is sections on the protest that happened in 2007, which make the typhoon even more interesting, as if it was karma punishing the government for what they did.
I wish more people knew about what goes on in Burma. I wish there was more that we could do to help the people that are there. I want to be able to go back and visit my father's homeland and I'm hoping that in the future things will get better. Reading the book made me feel so sad and helpless. If you have never known anything about the country or even just the barest of details, the book is a great introduction to help you become more aware. It's written in narrative format so even if you are not a non fiction fan, it's a fast and enjoyable, not to mention informative read. VERY HIGHLY recommended.
On a side, if you want to know more about the government and about the monks' protest that happened in 2007, I suggest watching the Oscar nominated documentary Burma VJ. Another movie to watch is Beyond Rangoon (1995) starring Patricia Arquette. It's sad how even though that movie is 15 years old, things are still the same in the country.
Everything is Broken by Emma Larkin is published by Penguin Press (2010)
This review copy was provided for a blog tour with TLC Book Tours