This is a transporting and absorbing read, yet to call it magical or enchanting feels far too flippant for writing that covers so much real suffering and violence. Pascal Khoo Thwe’s life story, from growing up in a catholic tribe in Burma to fighting in the jungle as a rebel, feels an important one to share. His keen observations and favouring of explanations in place of simple descriptions bring his narrative alive. The clarity of his writing and matter of fact approach do justice to both the delightfully fantastical and the unjustifiable atrocities he repeatedly witnessed. From the Padaung to Mandalay and on into the jungle, this is a captivating, educating and eye opening tale. Hand drawn illustrations and photographs underline the reality of both the wonders and the horrors.
Looking for a few quotes, just one paragraph contained these two gems and every page is filled with meaningful and mesmerising passages.
On eating wasps
The meat of the baby wasp is tender, and the texture is somewhere between scrambled eggs and roast prawn….(many years later, I was to read Lewis Caroll. My descriptions sound quite like him but are literally true.) ….We regarded wasps as a delicacy, which is why we tried to be so precise in describing their taste – rather like wine-lovers in Europe.
On hanging honeycomb on doors to ward off spirits:
The Padaung think that ghosts can only understand and deal with straight lines, so the hexagons of bee-cells are beyond them. Evil spirits are not noted for their understanding of maths.
From: An Oxfam bookshop binge in March 2015
Read: September 2015 in Washington DC on a wet and windy weekend between brunching in a bookshop and discovering both dosas and shrimps and grits in a food market.
Felt: Moved, enchanted and a bit more educated
Loved: How vividly each new setting and culture was described
Would recommend: To everyone, repeatedly. To be read and re-read.