Everything is Broken
Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 8:55AM
[beastmomma] in 2010

From TLC book tours:

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 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: A Tale of Catastrophe in Burma (The Penguin Press; May 3, 2010; $35.95), 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.

Pages: 288 (Hardcover) The Penguin Press HC is the publisher

Rating: 8 out of 10

Source: Received from TLC book tours

Even though I knew it was going to be an intense emotional journey, I was excited and curious to read Everything Is Broken: A Tale of Catastrophe in Burma by Emma Larkin  The book provided a wealth of information from the history of the current regime to insight into Buddhist beliefs and cultural practices.  I was especially taken with the central role monks played in society and how harming the monks was one of the practices that brought people out to protest the government. As a result of the regime's harm to the monks, the monks decided to overturn the alms which The description of "overturning the alms" was especially powerful.  When the government failed to apologize for an assault against monks, the monks declared a boycott on accepting alms from the soldiers and their families.  This denies soldiers and their families the chance to make merit which is a central part of religious practice in the community.

My favorite parts of the book were when mythic tales were interwoven with the dark story.  For example, I really enjoyed reading about the stories of the people who clung to animals during the storm.  I was a little freaked out with the image of someone clinging to a snake or a python to ride out the storm, but I was also moved and amazed at how something that induces fear transforms into a life line.

The book contained many stories of loss and the struggles people went through to hang onto what they treasured.  One story of a mother who could not carry her baby broke my heart. She wrapped her child in a cloth and then held the cloth with her teeth during the entire storm.  The author heard lots of stories of family members who were dead or missing.  Losing clothing was also a big theme. Several of the stories described how people lost their clothing which was a sign of shame.  I was especially moved with the description of a woman who refused to come down from a tree until nightfall because she was naked.  

Even with all the loss and destruction, people were trying to figure out how to start over.  This part of the book was especially sad to me.  With the misinformation and restriction on aid, many people had little resources with which to start over.  At several points, the author provides lists to illustrate the large mismatch between what was received and what was needed. In a political environment when people could be thrown into jail for sharing information outside the country, it because an act of defiance to simply state "This is what we need."

Throughout the book, I found myself comparing the government response in Burma to the responses of governments to hurricane Katrina in the United States and the tsunami in Southeast Asia.  Even though the responses could have been better, the relative transparency of relief efforts and getting information out made it easier for the international community to respond to the disaster.

Finally, I was intrigued by the author's practice of writing the book.  She used a lot of first hand sources and often was operating under the radar.  I noticed that the author wrote using a pseudonym.  I found myself curious about what motivated her to take the risk to write the book, how she became interested in Burma, what she does when she is not writing books, and what she is doing now.

For other scheduled tour stops, please visit the TLC website.

In addition to being a tour stop, I am using this book for the following challenges:

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